An interview with LEON TODD of RAGDOLL

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Ragdoll is an Australian band based in Perth, and I’ve been a huge fan since I first heard their music in 2012. Guitarist Leon Todd, bass-player and vocalist Ryan Rafferty (those pipes!), and drummer Cam Barrett play rock with passion and skill, crafting songs that you can listen to over and over again and always find new things to love.

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After the release of the band’s latest album ‘Back To Zero’ (a must-have for any fan of rock and roll: read my review here, and then pick up a copy!), and another stint in Rocklahoma earlier this year, this three-piece is now heading out on their first ever European tour.

Huge thanks to Leon for taking some time to talk to Rock And Roll!

Q. First things first: Ragdoll is heading to Europe! This is incredibly exciting news, even though you’re going to Sweden just after I came back from visiting there… How did this European tour come about, and where will you guys be playing? And also: are you excited or what?! I think you guys will be knocking ‘em dead over there.

Leon Todd: ‘Back to Zero’ is out in Europe through French label Bad Reputation, and we’ve been getting lots of great press on the back of that. We got booked for a few festivals there and managed to hook up with fellow West Aussies Vdelli for a few shows off the back of that; it’s actually been quite an organic process with a lot less hassle than touring the USA.

We’re beside ourselves with excitement! I’ve never been to Europe before so I’ll be soaking up as much of the culture and history in our down time there.

Q. What would you tell people over in Europe to convince them to come to a Ragdoll show? What can they expect?

Leon Todd: Lots of energy, lots of sweat and lots of fun. Our records tend to showcase the pensive side of the band while I feel our live show is more about the power and the passion that the three of us create. If music were food the album would be the smell, while the live show would be the taste.

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Q. Sounds like you’re offering a pretty darn good meal… Ragdoll’s latest release is ‘Back To Zero’, one of my favourite albums so far this year. First of all: what was the inspiration for that album title?

Leon Todd: Like all our records, it started off as an in joke that took on a life of it’s own. Troy, our producer, is notoriously clumsy and ‘Back to Zero’ was the catchphrase we started using any time he failed to exercise sufficient motor control. At the same time, a lot of the lyrical themes on the album and our overall approach to recording, deal with the idea of rebirth and starting from scratch. What started as a joke ended up encapsulating the record better than anything we could have arrived at otherwise.

Q. There are so many great, kick-ass tracks on ‘Back To Zero’. I’m ridiculously in love with the whole thing, though there’s a special place in my heart for ‘Save Me’ and ‘Dreaming Out Loud’. Do you have any favourite tracks on the album? I know for sure that as a guitar player you’re having some major fun on ‘Kungfoolery’!

Leon Todd: ‘Save Me’ is really the track that got us going with the creative process so I’m pretty fond of that one. Everything from the vocal delivery to the drum grooves and the guitar sound really hit me right in the guts.

‘Shine’ really stands out to me though. A lot of the classic cinema and literature I love deals centers around the transformational epic, and I think ‘Shine’ really sums up what we’ve gone through as a band and in our personal lives since we became a band. I demoed that song back in 2012, forgot about it and ‘rediscovered’ it while I was browsing an old iPod on a flight last year. I instantly knew I wanted to rewrite and transform it into something we could build an album around.

Q. Very cool that it made it onto ‘Back To Zero’ – it is an awesome tune! Ragdoll is based in Perth, Australia. Not a very central location one might think. How has it shaped and affected you as a band to “grow up” so to speak in Perth?

Leon Todd: Perth is an interesting city culturally; a strange mix of insularity and cosmopolitanism. It’s an awesome place to live (great beaches, coffee and food) but tall poppy syndrome reigns supreme and you really have to get some interest overseas before people at home take you seriously. The style of music we play and love is the antithesis of what is cool in Australia at the moment, so it’s made us focus on playing and writing to serve ourselves first. We’ve really learnt how not to give a fuck; that’s growing up right?

Q. Best kind of growing up, if you ask me. Ragdoll is a band that’s been together for several years now. As a music blogger and music fan I see lots of bands break up or fall apart for whatever reasons… And of course this happens to a lot of classic bands too. Band mechanics, how and why bands stay together should maybe be the subject of a thesis! What makes Ragdoll work? Do you think there’s some kind of magic formula of personalities and goals and all that that helps keep a band together?

Leon Todd: There’s only three of us so it immediately makes scheduling and financing easier for us. We all come from very similar families and share similar values so we all have a lot in common. Ultimately, we love playing and writing the music we make and we’re incredibly grateful to have the opportunities to tour and see the world. We aren’t in this to be rockstars, we’re in it because we love music.

Q. In addition to being a rock star, you also teach guitar. What’s the best part of that job? And are your students impressed by your music credentials?

Leon Todd: Teaching keeps me connected with the all the things that made me fall in love with music in the first place. Without getting too philosophical about the benefits of pedagogy, I get a kick out of helping students on their way. Some of them get blown away when I tell them about what Ragdoll does, others couldn’t care less. “But did you meet Ed Sheehan? Can’t be that good can you!”

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Ragdoll on stage in Rocklahoma. Photo by Elspeth Erickson Photography.

Q. Ragdoll went off to Rocklahoma again this year: you’ve played there a number of times. Any particular highlights from this year?

Leon Todd: It was probably the best year we’ve played there. We played after the Scorpions and had an awesome turnout at 1am; that must be a highlight for anyone!

Q. That does sound like a definite highlight! Your band regularly tours and plays a lot of gigs away from home: what’s your secret recipe for staying sane while touring and traveling? You might need those secret recipes for the upcoming European tour!

Leon Todd: I read and write as much as I can even when I’m on the road and I try to listen to as much music as I can. I love reading up about the history of any new place we get to and trying to maximise my time getting out and meeting people. Not eating spicy food the night before a show is a must too.

Q. Wise words. I know when you toured the US a couple of years ago you got to actually meet up with one of your musical heroes: Dug Pinnick which obviously must have been a blast. Who were your guitar heroes when you first started out playing, and who do you like right now?

Leon Todd: Dug is the best dude; so insanely talented yet humble, personable and generally cool. We call him Uncle Dug for all those reasons! I grew up on everything from Steve Vai to Joe Pass. My biggest hero growing up was my Dad though; I could ask him anything about any scale, mode or song and he could always break it down into something I could understand.

Q. Since I follow you on social media, I know you really like your gear: pedals, guitars, amplifiers… What gear is top of your list right now? Give us a bit of a rundown what kind of stuff you used on ‘Back To Zero’, and maybe new acquisitions since.

Leon Todd: We pulled out all the punches on ‘Back to Zero’. The main tones are my PRS SC245 with Mesa, Soldano, Splawn and vintage Marshall’s amps. I also pulled out some of my vintage Gibson and Fenders for certain lead parts and overdubs. In order to pull some of the sounds consistently on stage I recently picked up a Fractal Axe-Fx; it’s changed my life for live shows. Light, small and incredibly consistent and powerful.

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Q. What bands and albums have you been listening to lately? Any recommendations to share?

Leon Todd: At the moment I’ve been hammering S U R V I V E, the guys that did the Stranger Things soundtrack. Between that and the new Gojira album I’ve been pretty fulfilled.

Q. In my previous interview with you (read it here), I asked you about favourite albums. So you get a pass on that this time. But because I know you’re such a guitar aficionado, could you pick, say, five riffs from rock, metal and/or hard rock that are standouts in your mind and maybe tell me a bit about why those are your favourites?

Leon Todd: For me, a riff has to be satisfying to play and it has has to make people move. It’s as much about the notes you play as it is the space you leave between the notes to make it breathe and groove. I always find myself dreaming of these five, especially at soundcheck.

  • Kings X – Dogman
  • Led Zeppelin – No Quarter
  • Rush – Limelight
  • Alice in Chains – Them Bones
  • Whitesnake – Bad Boys

Thanks to Leon for the interview and best of luck to Ragdoll on tour. Catch them live if you can, Europe! Check out Ragdoll’s video for ‘Playing God’ off ‘Back To Zero’, and as a special treat: watch the band’s kick-ass cover version of Robin Trower’s ‘Fool And Me’, with some guitar-antics from Leon.

Keep up with Ragdoll online and find out all about the upcoming gigs here: official website / Facebook / Twitter

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