Ragdoll – Leon Todd

Ragdoll are an Australian 3 piece power trio that embodies all the best bits of rock and or roll (or is that hair and grunge?) We chat to their guitar playing extraordinaire, Leon Todd, about their upcoming single, and plans to revisit Rocklohoma, 2015.

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The new single Rewind Your Mind is a bit of a departure from previous stylings, yet it still sounds unmistakably likeRagdoll. For those not familiar, can you describe the Ragdoll sound?

Rewind Your Mind is a really good snapshot of where we’re at as a band and as individuals; which is the end game for any band really. I felt the identifiable “Ragdoll sound” really started to take shape on our last studio EP “All I Want Is Everything”, where we really embraced the heavier riff driven material while still trying to write songs with big hooks. Our aim has always been to just play music that we love to listen to, but I think we found a really good balance between the melodic and the aggressive on that release; someone referred to it as “Hair Grunge” so I just roll with that now!

With Rewind Your Mind we were very driven to write something that explores the darker and lighter elements of our sound in the same song. It’s also our way of reclaiming some of the elements of the music we love. It’s never been cooler to turn on a fuzz and delay and claim you’re “recreating the spirit of the 70s” but I don’t think it should come at the expense of musicality or song craft. I love funky tones, I love sunny, dominant melodies and I love trippy psychadelic vocals, but I also love sonic fidelity, tight playing and skull crushing riffs. Ultimately, I don’t think any band but Ragdoll could write a song like Rewind Your Mind.

How and why did you first pick up the guitar?

My dad is a mad guitar player, collector and luthier so I’ve had a guitar in my hands more or less from day one. My parents would always play Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Stevie Ray Vaughan around the house so the sound of the guitar was always around me. I didn’t show a lot of real interest in it until I was 13 though; some friends at school introduced me to stuff like Linkin Park and an older family friend got me into Thin Lizzy. I probably tried every possible hobby as a kid to avoid becoming a guitar player but it still sucked me in! My early influences were Stevie Ray, Gary Moore, Scott Gorham, Michael Schenker and Ritchie Blackmore; all guys with great tones and an abundance of character in their playing. My dad introduced me to Yngwie Malmsteen a little later on and that was the beginning of myobsession with constantly trying to improve my playing.

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First album you purchased ?

“Texas Flood” by Stevie Ray Vaughan; I still remember going into Sanity in Joondalup with twenty bucks and walking out with it reverently. SRV was my first guitar hero.

What kind of attributes do you look for when choosing an electric guitar

I was lucky as a kid that I got to start out on really high quality gear; old Gibsons, Fenders and custom builds. That taught me to appreciate the qualities of an instrument rather than the name or the price tag. Tone and playability are always paramount for me, and I find the two tend to reinforce one another; a great sounding guitar that’s set up well removes a lot of the barriers between what’s happening in my musical brain and what my fingers do. My main guitar for playing live is a 2008 PRS SC245; I compared it to another dozen or so in the store and it worked so well for the way I like to play. Growing up watching and helping my dad build and modify guitars, PRS always stood out as the gold standard in production instruments; they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but their attention to detail is undeniable. For recording, I like guitars that have a distinct, identifiable personality. If it’s a thick, crunchy Gibson style tone, I want it to be as thick and crunchy as possible. If it’s a wiry, twangy Fender style sound, I want it to be as wiry and twangy as possible. Often the ugly, obnoxious tones that don’t work at all live are the ones that work the best on a recording.

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Can you describe your approach to songwriting — how do you decide which riffs good and which are bad?

Rewind Your Mind was a much more collaborative effort between the three of us in the band then our previous releases; normally I’ll sketch out a piece of music and demo it in ProTools, we’ll work out our own individual parts in the jam room and at the last minute we’ll add lyrics and melodies. This time the melodies and music happened more or less simultaneously, and we were able to let the writing process flow a little more; working up our parts together and really trying to play for the song. I try to describe Ragdoll as “hair grunge” to people; the mix between the anthemic 70s/80s style rock and the sludgy, ugly 90s stuff that most people think of in purely oppositional terms. I think Rewind Your Mind definitely captures that collision of two musical worlds and shows that they can in fact coexist.

What was your recording setup like for Rewind Your Mind?

We tracked the drums, bass and rhythm guitars at Crank Recording in Leederville and then did guitar overdubs and vocals in my home studio. Our Producer Troy Nababan has an amazing, otherworldly old Marshall JMP that has the perfect mix of clarity and filthiness that we pulled out and used for the main rhythm tracks. It’s pretty much the ultimate rock amp; we boosted the front end with an AA workhorse and used my PRS SC245 for the main distorted doubles, then added another set of doubles with the same guitar and pedal into a MESA Roadster to give it some extra low mid chunk. The clean/crunchy sounds are a combination of my PRS Mira into the Roadster and an old 335 into the same amp, both with a slight boost from the workhorse. Without sounding like an ass kisser, I just love that pedal on everything! There’s also some tracks played on my old Guild 12 string acoustic and some self oscillating noise courtesy of a Moogerfooger delay. From memory, Troy used a combination of a Royer and an SM57 on the cabs; I more or less rocked up, plugged in and he had it all sounding great from the get go. He does all the work, I take all the credit!

How do you recreate this live?

Recording this single made me go and buy an old Dual Rectifier just so I can get closer to the recorded sound live; I now run a DSL 50 and a Dual Rectifier in tandem. The DSL has an Eventide Timefactor in the loop set to a dotted 8th rhythmic delay and I use my workhorse and a Budda wah in front of both amps. I guess live we aim to focus more on stripping the songs back to the core and trying to play them as powerfully and musically as possible.

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Now that Rewind Your Mind has been released what next?

We’re touring the single through the USA in late May and playing at Rocklahoma festival in Oklahoma; it’s almost a home away from home for us now. Our last show before we head off is at 459 Bar on May 9th where we’ll be doing an extra long set and playing all our releases in full. We should have the “Rewind Your Mind” music video out by the middle of May too, which is going to be something really exciting visually

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Give us your best “wtf” live show experience…

Pretty much every show I’ve ever played abroad has an element of “wtf” to it. One of my favourites was a show we played in Albuquerque in 2013.We didn’t really have high expectations for the show but a lot of people turned out to see us and at one point we had a proper mosh pit break out, which is pretty rare for us. There was a group of girls on Ryan’s side of the stage who were getting knocked around and somehow this deteriorated into a Jerry Springer style catfight between them; hair being pulled, scratches, biting, full feral mode! I don’t endorse violence of any kind, but it was almost like every adolescent boys fantasy coming to life before me.

Thanks for taking the time to give us your insights

You can check out Ragdoll on

www.facebook.com/ragdollrock

www.youtube.com/c/ragdollrock

www.ragdollrock.com

you can also follow Leon for guitar lessons on

https://www.facebook.com/Leontoddmusic?fref=ts

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrlsD6OalGm8pIqKVo81k6A

Additional info – Leon has been a huge supporter of Anarchy Audio Effects. His collection of production pedals and one-off custom builds is most likely in the double digits. The coolest one could/would possibly be this custom OD + clean booster 2in1, which actually pre-dates the AA branding/last one before AA branding. 536918_335956186461913_1334399891_n

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