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How Sex on Toast turned tragedy into a driving force

After losing his mentor early in 2018, Sex on Toast’s frontman reveals that from this adversity he grew and wrote music like never before.

Melbourne-based sumptuous soul act Sex on Toast has spent the last 15 years providing audiences with an escape from reality. The vessel for this transcendence is a combination of their music and aesthetic, a rambunctious mix of ‘80s synth-wave, disco, metal, blaring horns and swaggering baritone vocals. Regardless of how dejected or downtrodden an audience member is at the beginning of a Sex on Toast show, any weight will be lifted by the end of it.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of 2018, Sex on Toast founding member, primary songwriter and frontman Angus Leslie found himself at a treacherously low ebb as adulthood and mortality loomed.

“My step-father’s death wasn’t so great. It affected my creativity in general,” laments Leslie. He supposes that the passing of a person very close to him this year floored him, but once he had picked the pieces up there was a silver lining. “What it did was it gave me a creative fearlessness. My apprehension to take my focus off Sex on Toast and do other projects vanished and I really threw myself head-on into those because that is what he would have wanted to do,” he says. 

“He was in a band in the ‘80s called 10,000 Guitars and he came from a very musical family. He played in that band with his brother Keith and his brother Michael, with Michael playing bass for Paul Kelly at some point and his oldest brother was the guitarist from The Sports, Martin Armiger.” 

Leslie’s stepfather is the late Andy Armiger-Grant, a veteran of that heady period in the ‘80s when Australian rock was in what many consider a sweet spot, producing the likes of INXS, Midnight Oil, Australian Crawl, The Sports, The Motels, Icehouse and many more. Armiger-Grant’s experience became invaluable to Leslie who has since crafted one of Australia’s most inimitable acts.

“He made me understand that certain things need to happen for you to get yourself out there and really do a band properly,” he says.

With the gift of Armiger’s advice and perspective combined with the aforementioned nothing-to-lose attitude, Leslie set about writing material for what would become Sex on Toast’s EP, Rough, that came out this September. The lead single from the release is simply called ‘Party’ and as Leslie describes, it immediately conjures the punchy and popping grooves of Bobby Brown, MC Hammer, Back from Hell-era Run DMC and Prince circa ‘Cream’.

Leslie discusses writing ‘Party’, making reference to the subgenre that dominated pop for a good chunk from 1989 to 1993. 

“I was trying to capture the essence of new jack-infused pop – new jack swing is a genre that arose from Teddy Riley’s production work in the late ‘80s on songs like Johnny Kemp’s ‘Just Got Paid’ and Keith Sweat’s ‘I Want Her’. Teddy Riley ended up becoming a big-name producer and did Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’, he pioneered that swing beat and high-snare sound.”

The economy and focus of ‘Party’ is in stark contrast to the enveloping opulence of Sex on Toast’s biggest song to date, ‘Oh, Loretta’. Whilst Leslie’s obsession with new jack swing is partially responsible for this, the band’s shedding of two of its horn players also played a part.

“We now just have Nick Piestch on trombone, Johnny Bassoon moved to Canada while Bovril [Harrison] is focusing on his professional knitting career. That’s not to say we wouldn’t have full horns back one day, but we are kind of enjoying playing with a slightly smaller lineup that’s more about the rhythm section and less about horn arranging. This allows me to focus on the vocal arranging,” admits Leslie.

It will be this streamlined makeup that will greet fans in the New Year as Sex on Toast perform at Chapel Off Chapel on Saturday January 12. Leslie enthuses about the show, “There is a grand piano there that is exciting, so we will try to incorporate that in some stripped back versions. It is a nice space.” 

Sex on Toast play Chapel Summer Sessions on Saturday January 12. Grab your tickets and check out the rest of the Summer Sessions lineup at the venue website.