Twenty years on from their platinum selling album Sumo hitting number two on the ARIA Chart (and with a few ARIA Awards in the trophy cabinet), The Superjesus are back with an anniversary edition of their celebrated 1998 debut, set for release on August 17. As well as seeing the original album reissued on vinyl, the CD edition of Sumo – 20th Anniversary features bonus material sourced from triple j’s Live At The Wireless archive, as well as a never before heard studio recording: a Superjesus cover of Kylie Minogue’s Confide In Me. With all the excitement in The Superjesus camp I spoke to Sarah McLeod about Sumo and the upcoming tour.
Congratulations on twenty years of Sumo. It must be awesome for the band to be able to have that opportunity to go down memory lane on this upcoming tour?
It really is, especially being in a better place mentally now. Things looked so weird when we put Sumo out, and I feel so much better in my life now. More comfortable with the band, more comfortable in who we are and where our music is. To be able to play that record now with this new mindset, it’s great and I can actually start enjoying it now.
Being more mature and a little wiser now and you able to enjoy things more now as a band?
Yeah, absolutely. We had a pretty tough time when we put this record out. The chemistry of the band was a bit weird and there were a lot of fights and it was a tense time. It was hard to actually enjoy what was going on. So to be able to be in a different position and enjoy the record twenty years later, I feel like it’s a second chance.
Can you believe it’s been twenty years?
I just can’t believe it’s been twenty years, to be honest.
Are you finding that it’s taking a bit of rehearsing to remember how to play some of those songs off Sumo, especially now that you’re going to be doing the album in its entirety?
It’s hard. It’s a lot of work because there are some really strange tunings and they’ve all got capos on different frets and it took me hours to work out what the right tunings are and where the capos would go, and now it’s just a matter of honing the parts. Yeah, because they’re strange songs, they’re not chords, none of the songs that we play have actual chords in them, so you can’t write it down. I can’t go C to G with a B bass or … it’s just not like that because of the tunings, it’s just more a succession of odd shapes and arpeggios and you know, it’s trial and error until you find where to put your fingers. A lot of is just, like I’ll have flashes, like photos in my brain of shapes so I’m like, “Let’s try this shape. Oh, there it is.” You know, but I might try one hundred shapes before I find it.
How was the process of going through all the material to work out what to put on that bonus disc? Did you find that you had that much stuff that you couldn’t fit it all on one CD?
Well, to be honest we were looking at what extra tracks we did have lying around from the day. That was the first question from the record company and I was like, “Well, we don’t” because we never, we weren’t one of those bands that would write one hundred songs and pick ten. We would do an album and we’d write ten songs and that’s the album, then we’d think, “We’d better write two extra for B sides.” We were very economical with our song writing and we would make sure that each song that we wrote, we loved. If we weren’t loving it, we’d scrap it. So if we finished it, it went in on the record. So we didn’t have songs lying around and when they said, “What about Live at the Wireless that you did in ’97?” We hadn’t heard since we did it in ’97, because back then things just happened so fast.
We didn’t sit around basking in our glory, what we’d just done, we were onto the next thing and I said, “Well send it over and let me have a listen.” I was worried. I was thinking, “This is going to be so bad.” I was gritting my teeth and I couldn’t breathe thinking, “I’m going to be singing off key and there’s going to be mistakes,” and I played it and it was amazing and I went, “Oh my God, we were great. Yes, put that on there, that’s fantastic.” So that was a relief.
The Kylie cover came about because years ago, back in ’97 we started a demo of it just for fun and then we thought, “Oh no. Us doing Kylie songs, a dumb idea. Forget it.” So we just scrapped it and then about six months ago when we were sitting after a gig, we were all together and it came on TV. We’re all sitting round after a show having a few beers and I went inside to get the next beer and I saw it on the TV. I don’t know why, I think because I was with the band and it came on and it reminded me of when we had intended it years prior and I thought, “We should do that,” and I ran it past the guys and, “Oh yeah. That’d be badass. Yeah.”
So I went straight home the next day and did a demo of it, trying to remember how we did it back in the day. All I really remember of how we did it back in the day was that it was in low C and had that Sabbath thing going on. So I just mucked around with it until I got the demo right and then I said to the guys, “Are you interested in this?” They were like, “Yeah, sure.” We all went into the studio and they added heaps when we were in there. They put all old extra stuff on it, which I was really happy with, and it all came together really quickly. We we ended up playing at that weekend at Hotter Than Hell and then we slipped it on the Sumo because it sounds like those songs. It fits in perfectly and because we did the demo of it around that time and she brought it out in the 90’s and I thought we could put this together. This all sounds great. So finding something new, you know, it makes the anniversary record fresh for us.
Are there any other covers or other little gems there hidden away that you haven’t found yet?
We don’t do covers. That’s the thing. That’s why it was a bit of a thing. Ages ago we did a cover of Something in the Air which I didn’t even know who’d sung that. It’s an old ’70’s song we did but we never played it live. We always felt that we weren’t the band that does covers, we were against them. So that’s why we thought now’s the time. There’s no shame in doing a cover.
You must be really thrilled with Sumo coming out on vinyl as well, especially the red vinyl as well? That looks like a nice little collector piece for fans as well.
Yeah, absolutely. I was saying to the kids at the beginning of this year, Warner’s put out Jet Age on blue vinyl. So the coloured vinyl are total collector’s items.
Do you think you, Eight Step Rail might get that sort of touch up as well at some point?
I don’t think so because it was only an EP.
When The Superjesus weren’t active for that particular period of time, did you find you learned a lot about yourself?
I think that I just go for it. I have an idea and I go for it, and I chop and change from things all the time and I’m always working on three or four different things at once and I am very proactive, I’m really highly strung. I talk fast, I walk fast, I work fast. You should see me in the studio. I’m manic and manic as fuck. My brain is like a sponge and I like to learn things, I like to try new things and I think it just boils down to excitement. I get excited about things so I just go for it and as I’m going for it, I learn on the job.
Are there future plans for The Superjesus, is there a new album in the mix at some point given the energy and excitement in the camp or is it just small steps and see how it goes?
Well yeah, I think so. I mean, we’ve been told that no one really wants a new album from you guys so we sort of haven’t bothered because it’s like bands from that era, they just want to hear the old songs. No one cares about your new songs. So we haven’t really been that excited about doing one nut of late, I’ve just thought I don’t fucking care what anyone says to us because if we write an album that’s good enough, then they’ll forget all about the old songs and they’ll be hungry for the new songs. So I think we should just go for it now that we’re excited again. I think now that we have a bit of a vibe and some momentum, we’d be crazy to shut the engine down. I have been writing for a solo album but I think I might shelve that and go back to working on this.
Getting back on the road must be very, very cool just to be able to reconnect with the band and just play these awesome songs again.
Yeah, totally. I can’t wait. Especially the ones we’ve never played live before. I’m just excited to hear what they sound like.
I have to ask you about the John Waite’s tour. Was that one of your favourite tours that you’ve ever done? You just looked like you were absolutely in your element.
Well for a start, I love John Waite in spades and have always been a massive fan. The crowds were pin drop quiet and super respectful and would applaud between songs and go quiet again, it sounded lovely and every night John Waite is standing at the side door listening to me, which made me sing better, then I would watch him every night and learn so much. So it was like we were trying to impress each other. He started telling me that he thought I was a great singer and so I was like, “Oh really?”
He got me up on stage and we were singing together every night. We got along really well. We’re still really good friends on email and stuff. I loved him but I think I rose to a new lyrical height because he was telling me I was amazing and I wanted to impress him, because he’s the king.
It almost looked like he was a proud father looking on and it was just one of those shows as a performer you wish that you could just bottle and just unleash again when you thinking, “Oh I’ve got to back up again tonight.”
Yeah, I loved every single show. I could have toured that for years. I loved it and he’s just wonderful. He’s got so much charisma. He walks in a room and you just go, “Aw John.” I just love him.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch The Superjesus on the following dates…