Interview: Follow The Leader With Ragdoll’s Leon Todd + The Colourful Writer

Interview by Shannon-Lee Sloane – The Colourful Writer

Perth three piece powerhouse of ROCK, Ragdoll have only recently come onto my radar and by gosh I wish I’d discovered them sooner. With riffs for days and vocals otherworldly, they’ve really got a hold on my music loving heart. With a sound derived from a mix of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s classic rock, heavy rock and grunge, they are all my favourite rock things combined. Their latest release, new single, Follow The Leader was my first taste of their sound and I have since searched further to hear all things Ragdoll. I encourage you to do the same because if you love to rock, then you’ll love Ragdoll.

I had a chat with founding member and guitarist, Leon Todd recently about the new single, his love of guitars, teaching online and how as much as he loves playing live, the temporary forced time away from performing live is welcomed, but only for now.

Ragdoll are a three-piece rock band from Perth. I am sad to say I only recently discovered you guys! I feel like Perth is FULL of hidden gems – what is the music scene like there?

“You know, this is probably one of the most common questions we get asked by people. Like ‘you’re from Perth!’ and it’s like don’t hold it against us or anything! *laughs* Perth does not really have a ‘scene’ per say. But there are a lot of clusters of ‘cliques’ more like it, that’s kind of what it feels like a lot of the time. Our little clique of bands who play rock music is actually pretty small and I feel like over the course of the whole time we’ve been making original music, which slowly, I don’t know if it’s been a transformation or if we’ve been part of that generational crossover, Ragdoll being a band has coincided with the rights of streaming and I mean not just Spotify and Apple Music but I mean like Netflix. That has become the biggest competitor for live music nowadays. Things have definitely slowed down, especially with the music scene. People aren’t as busy anymore, but I don’t think that has affected the quality of what’s coming out because Perth has always had a pretty good kind of hit rate. There might not be a lot of bands but the bands who stick around manage to kind of get out because there’s not much going on in Perth. So by virtue of being from Perth, you get out of town and you’re these exotic foreigners weather you’re playing interstate or you’re playing overseas. So that’s probably why you hear about so many Perth bands, because we can’t wait to get out of Perth!

Perth is a great place to live, it really is amazing. I think it’s probably different to what you’d expect on the East Coast and the live music is probably more tailored culturally to Melbourne or Sydney and Brisbane sort of social life.”

Our main focus tonight is your new single, Follow The Leader which I am so hooked on. I find myself singing it when I am walking around the house, it’s such a catchy rock tune. Can you tell me about the single itself? Who wrote it, what it’s about?

“I am a really big fan of a band called King’s X, who are an American band who were around in the late 80’s, early 90’s. They are sort of like the band that never really made it but all the bands that did make it, love them. They are like every big bands favourite band. They are also a trio, very similar kind of thing. This song, having loved that band for so long, I was going through this period of listening to their albums a lot and it ended up kind of being a little bit of a ‘tip of the hat’ to that band. In my opinion it was a really interesting period probably from like the tail end of the 80’s to maybe the first couple of years of the 90’s and weather that was in America or weather that was in Australia. Australia had bands like The Baby Animals doing awesome stuff as well. It was all a little bit more stripped back and a little bit more raw and honest and that’s kind of one of my favourite areas of music. Anyway, I digress, that was something that was like a lot of our songs that kind of popped out because I was listening to a lot of their music and playing a lot of guitar and as I always do. I tend to kind of sketch songs out and then bring them to the guys. Or I record them and send it to them, and we will rehearse and put everything together. This song was interesting in that we recoded the drums for it probably the end of 2018 and it just kind of sat around and marinated for about a year. We re wrote it, we re wrote the lyrics a few times. I think to me it is the most live sounding song. It has the least amount of production flourishes on it but it is probably the song that went through the most actual re writing and reorganising and things like that. We really had the luxury of time with that one. I like to say that we are like the worlds worst funk band. Because in my head that’s like a really funky groovy song but when you hear it, it’s like this loud aggressive, heavy song.”

Well it sounds like the marinating of the song did it well and added to the flavour you could say?

“Exactly, if you want to lean into that analogy. I think food is the best analogy for music that there is…”

Absolutely, me too! I often tend to use food and music in analogies in my writing.

“Yeah you know, it is kind of like, I like to think of Ragdoll is kind of like black coffee and blue cheese. Like you know, if you like those things, you can’t get enough of them. But for some people they are just ‘why would anyone want to do this? Why would anyone want to listen to this?’ so I understand that. If you are into things like that then you are probably into what we do”

Speaking of food related things, the Ragroll logo/single art looks a lot like the Vegemite logo. I dig it. Where did that idea come from?

“Yeah that’s just for this single. That will make it onto shirts, hopefully we don’t get sued too badly or anything like that. We are really fortunate that through a friend of a friend in the states, we have done quite a bit of touring over in the US. That really helped us up our merch game. The first time we went we had one t shirt, like every band, it’s your band logo on a t shirt. But we found that people there didn’t want to just buy one t shirt, they wanted every variation on it possible. We have a What’s App group chat and were morons and are like ‘imagine if we had a logo but it looked like the Vegemite logo’ and we were like ‘yeah, let’s do it, let’s make it the artwork for the single’. We had a very Grand Theft Auto inspired one for our last single and a kind of space theme for one of the other ones. It’s part of the fun of the non-musical aspects of it. Because everyone always asks you, especially in the states, like ‘what’s the deal with Vegemite, it tastes terrible!’ and it’s like ‘well let me explain it to you’ so I feel that’s kind of like our music as well.”

You did touch on this earlier when we were talking about the single, but I wanted to ask more about the writing of your music. Do the three of you write the music and lyrics together?

“A lot of the time I will have an idea and I know it’s worthwhile if I hear back from one of the guys. I email the guys stuff all the time and if somebody hears it and likes it, they will write back and I know then it’s something to work on. Our songs are either like ready to go, which is very rare, there’s one or two songs that we’ve had like that or it’s like ‘hey man, this would be really cool but what if we have this section where it does this kind of thing’ and then we sit around and work out what the other person is talking about. We talk in metaphor and analogy. Lyric wise and melody wise I think wiring music often comes hand in hand with hearing a vocal melody for me. And then it’s a case of like well what’s everyone in the band feeling, what are we going through at the moment or what do want to write about that’s worthwhile. I think we always try to make our songs like that, where it can be heavy and aggressive music but lyrically it can be you know, humane. That sounds super… I sound as new age as I look when I say that but it’s really, it’s less about – you know a lot of rock music is about the same four or five things. This song in particular was more like, when you play in a band and although we are not the world’s biggest band or anything like that but you know, it comes with the territory of expectations from people who do like your music or people who are willing to put you on a pedestal whether they realise it or not. It’s like a dissonance I think when you are trying to write music and you are trying to connect with people but then you go out and you perform music and you’re on stage and people think that means that you’re for whatever reason more or less worthy of their attention. It does create an interesting – it is very much a dissonance – like hey we are both people but I am just somebody who writes about things I know and if you hear something in that, that’s cool but I‘m not a guru or anything.”

That makes me think of a quote from Dave Grohl who said “That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people and they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.”

“Exactly. Yeah it is something I have got less hung up about over the years. It’s like well I am going to keep myself happy and you know, I have had people say that they thought the lyrics were cliché and cheesy and other people say like ‘woah man, yeah I like totally get you, it really connected with me!’ and you know, it’s better out than in in my opinion, with this kind of thing, when it’s out in the world then it stops being… I don’t have anything to do with it anymore, it’s up to people to figure out what the song is about.”

When did Ragdoll first form? Did it happen organically, or did you go out seeking each other to form a band?

“That’s a good question. I have known Cam, our drummer for close to 15 years now. I got to know him because back in the days of Myspace. I used to record little demos at home and put them on my Myspace page. We met through that and started jamming and that was when we were still teenagers. Then we went out to a pub one night and Ryan was playing in a covers band and we heard this guy with this voice, you know. It was just this other thing. I thought you had to be an alien or something like that to make those noises! We got to know one another, and it took us a couple of years to know that we did want to make music together. We tried out some different formats of the band, we started out as a five piece and then did some time as a four piece with a lead singer then as a four piece without a lead singer and that’s when Ryan stepped up into lead vocals. We always joked that the original vision we had for the band, he was the rhythm guitar player that sung some backing vocals, and now he has got the two most important jobs in the band, he’s the lead vocalist and he’s the bass player – you know, he makes people move. So, we did our first show as a three piece in 2011 so next year it’ll be 10 years. The nice thing at the moment is I guess we can plan for that 10-year celebration show *laughs* so yeah, we’ve done a lot of shows. We have done a lot of regional playing here in WA and we’ve been fortunate to play a lot overseas and through Australia now as well. And you know, we still talk to one another, so that’s something. A lot of bands don’t survive a year of that.”

I would imagine your friendships have built up and become stronger over the years. Doing something creative like making music together must naturally bring you closer together, I am sure there would be times when it’s not all sunshine and rainbows though?

“I think it was our drummer Cam who said ‘Being in a band like this is interesting, you’re more than friends but you’re less than family’ and that’s one of the most beautiful phrases I ‘ve ever heard, would be a good album title. But it is very similar, we discuss that all the time. You know mates wouldn’t normally spend 10 weeks in a car together through the mid-west of the United States sleeping on strangers’ floors. If you told people that then they’d think you’d lost your mind, but if you tell people you’re in a band and your touring America they’d be like ‘Oh wow, must be amazing’ so as with anything as time goes on and you mature, you kind of learn more about one another and learn more about yourself through the process. I mean, I don’t know, the other guys might secretly hate my guts but it’s all about giving one another space as people and musically as well.”

Speaking of touring and playing live shows, I have read a few things about you guys where you mention how much of a live band you really are and how much you love playing live. So how are you all surviving right now with no live shows?

“It’s kind of nice. For me, this is probably the first time in about 10 years I have had a break from playing live. I have a home studio and I do a lot of guitar centric YouTube content as well. That keeps me pretty busy as is. It’s normally like the extra layer of ‘ok on Friday when it’s 4:00 I have to pack my car and I have to remember to bring the merch’ and you know, all the little things that have changed in the flow, like I better call the guys and see if anybody needs lift or, you know what songs we are going to play, all those things. It is honestly nice having a break form that and some time to spend at home for an extended stretch. But it also really makes me appreciate how much I like playing live music. I have been doing some live stream stuff, I just plug my guitar in and have Spotify playing our songs and playing along and I think it is easy to forget how much fun that is. I think because there are so many people stuck at home with attention spans crying out for things, I find it’s a nice little stop gap. And hopefully it’s sooner rather than later that everyone can get back out and get to playing and enjoying those kinds of things. It might be a blessing in disguise where people realise what an important part of our culture and heritage live music is.”

My hope is that hopefully this goes long enough for everybody to watch every show on Netflix and every movie and listen to all their favourite songs on Spotify until they can’t listen to them anymore and then they have an appetite to go out, when it’s safe to do so, go out to live shows and enjoy music in the moment.”

Speaking of playing live again, you guys have played alongside some pretty big names, Guns n Roses, Alice In Chains, Skid Row, Korn. What was it like playing with them? Do you have a particular memory that stands out in your mind straight away when you reflect on playing with some big bands like that?

“Well that’s’ one of the great things about playing festivals in the US is that your CV starts to look really good on paper! honestly for me a lot of the best memories are just getting to watch those bands do their thing. They really are on another level. One particularly fond memory was 2016 in the states, the side stage that we played on at this outdoor style festival, the way it was laid out meant that The Scorpions were the last big act on the main stage and then we actually played after them on the side stage. It was located where everyone was filing out. So we stuck around as long as we could to watch The Scorpions and then we had to set up and soundcheck. It just turned out being perfect timing where all these people who had seen this amazing show were like ‘Oh we don’t want to leave’ and so they stuck around for our set. That was particularly memorable, playing in Oklahoma in the middle of the US at like 1 in the morning in what for 365 days of the year is this giant paddock that gets transformed into a big three-day festival. And we played really well which was nice. It’s so easy for those kinds of shows where stuff just stops working and you just  cramp up because it’s cold outside or something like that. So, it was like a perfect storm kind of thing. That’s one we talk about often. It was a really fun show. We were only over there for about a week basically to play that show and a couple of side shows. We had some Australian tour shows on the way back, so we decided not to get into the US time zone. We were waking up at like 5, 6 pm and then going out to like a restaurant for breakfast. It was one of the most bizarre weeks of my life because we were staying up until like 8 in the morning, sleeping during the day and then pulling ourselves out of bed around the time most people are eating dinner and packing our gear up and getting ready for a show so on our body clock it was like a 10 in the morning kind of show.”

I noticed on your Facebook page that you guys are doing remote music lessons for guitar, drum and bass, that is so cool, how do you do those, via Skype or Zoom?

“Yeah I have actually been using Zoom for all my private students and then there’s a start up based in Canberra called Musiconn and I have been working with them through their whole development stage and they launched last year. That is now taking off because they have this readymade platform there. We just all decided like hey, if people are sitting around at home or they have kids that want to learn at home, then it’s a great format. I have been teaching people online intermittently for a long time. I have clients in Europe and the States as well, so I am quite used to it.

But yeah, Zoom is very handy. This is a good chance to up skill, especially if you’re a musician. You know, being able to have the additional stream of revenue from teaching and teaching online, you can do it from home, you just need a webcam and a basic interface, then you have access to the world of people who want to learn music, weather they are the person down the road or they’re on the other side of the world.”

Going back to your YouTube videos. When I was researching you and the band, I watched some of those which display your levels of talent with your guitar playing, which is very impressive! Do you still remember the first time you picked up a guitar?

“Yeah. Well, that is debatable. I remember the first time I picked up a guitar and went, ‘I am going to do this now.’ I mean there is footage of my when I was like three years old, bossing all my siblings and cousins around saying we are going to form a band and making ‘wah wah’ guitar noises. But I was probably like 13 or 14, you know there is a thing that happens when you’re a teenager, you start to hear things differently and experience things differently. I was really fortunate growing up in a house with guitars in it and I was like ‘Ahh, there’s this thing I have looked at my whole life, that I have never wanted anything to do with and if I learn this, I can make those sounds that I like to listen too, that at the time was a little discman, remember those? – you couldn’t walk around with mine cos it would just jitter. But that was like, imagine a solution where you could just walk around and listen to music, that would be great! and now you can beam it in wirelessly into your ears! so that was it for me, I was probably in my early teens.”

You would obviously have a lot of guitars, do you have a favourite or is that as hard as picking a favourite child?

“Ahh no, I definitely do, and I am sure people do have favourite children as well, they just never like to admit it. Yeah, I do, it’s the guitar I basically use to record all the Ragdoll stuff. People can go to my YouTube and it’s in nearly everyone of my videos. There’s a lot of itches being scratched with guitars, I like collecting stuff and I like making music. There are certain guitars which fill certain functions, some are great tools that I use when recording and some that are too fragile to take out to gigs and others that are really consistent and really sturdy but they don’t have a lot of character so I play them live and I don’t record with them and then some of them have both and they become my favourites.”

It sounds like they all have their own personalities maybe?

“Oh definitely, like there’s a reason why there is such a deep rabbit hole on YouTube for guitar. There are so many videos and once you get interested in it, it’s a never ending obsession.”

So, going back to Perth and the local music scene there, who are some local bands form your area that people may not have heard of that you’d like to give a shout out and a plug too?

“Well a band that we have played with a lot and one of my favourites, if not my favourite band from Australia is Hailmary. If you like what we do, you will probably really like what they do as well. If you are into heavier stuff, Chaos Divine are buddies of mine, they are really great kind of heavy progressive band. The very first local gig I ever went to, they were playing at. Its been really cool to watch them develop. They are absolutely fantastic. The guys from Amberdown are really good, they have got like the most jacked front man ever, the most impressive arms you have ever seen on a man playing rock music, and they write good songs too and he’s got a great voice so that’s one to check out. Perth has a lot of extreme heavy bands and some really good indie stuff coming out of it and lots of bands who get a lot of triple j airplay as well. But Hailmary, Chaos Divine and Amberdown, if you want three bands to check out to give you a taste of Perth bands you may not have heard of, I would say check them out. Good bands with great songs.”

When will we see Ragdoll in Brisbane? Obviously once it is deemed safe to tour again, will you come play Brisbane? I would LOVE to see you guys play a live show here!

“We did a tour at the start of March where we did Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. And there were so many people who were like ‘why didn’t you do Brisbane!?’ the dilemma for us was at the time, we didn’t really know if there was any demand for us there or know anyone there to help us put on a show, but you know, now that we’ve had this conversation, maybe we can make it happen!”

I would LOVE to help. Lets’ do it! Brisbane will love Ragdoll if they don’t already!

“That’s awesome, that’s cool. Well the next time we do it, we will have to come to Brisbane then. Let’s do it!”

I read that your new album is set for release later in the year, but is that being held up at all due to the coronavirus?

“Yeah I mean it’s that puts a lot of things up in the air. We actually started tracking it over two years ago and we have just had various distractions and things come in which is why we decided to release a couple of singles in advance to kind of keep things ticking over and remind people we are still making music. We probably have maybe three more songs to track and then it needs to be mixed and mastered. But like I was saying before, it’s been kind of nice to not have things to think about and that’s one thing that has been in the back of my head. I know realistically we won’t get much work done on it for a couple of months and if it means it has to come out next year when we can put it out and play some shows then maybe it will work in our advantage. The songs will have more time to marinate and the songs will come out even better.”

Stream/purchase new single Follow The Leader

Follow Ragdoll HERE

With thanks to Firestarter Music

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