The music industry is one fickle beast. One minute you’re in a band, the next minute you’re going it solo. So it’s refreshing when a couple of musos stick it out for the long haul, and continue to make music. Music that’s just as good, if not better, than when they first started out.
Case in point: Baby Animals.
Formed in Sydney in 1989, by singer Suze DeMarchi and guitarist Dave Leslie (with drummer Frank Celenza and bassist Eddie Parise now replaced appropriately with the respective talents of Mick Skelton and Dario Bortolin), Baby Animals have, in various guises, kept it rocking over the better part of a quarter of a century.
Sure, there have been some strange stuff gone down along the way – the recording of an obscure album with an Italian title here; stories circulating that Suze would replace Michael Hutchence as singer for INXS– but the most part, the sheer love of making music has seen this band remain an Aussie institution in themselves.
Antonino Tati catches up with singer Suze and guitarist Dave over half a dozen coffees, to talk new music, old memories, and the kooky stuff in between.
Where are you guys living these days?
[Suze:] I’m back in Sydney.
[Dave:] And I’m about an hour north of Sydney, in a place called Longjetty.
Suze, you’re from Perth originally. Do you like seeing so many great bands coming out of Perth these days?
There’s some great bands coming out of Perth. I’ve always believed so, because there are so many great places to play. With my first bands, we could have played every night of the week if we wanted to, and that gives you a really good music education.
Do you think Perth’s distance from the other Australian capitals makes our artists want to ‘prove’ themselves even more to deliver really good music?
Yeah. As beautiful as Perth is, you fight to get out in a way – only because there are no record labels here. There’s no industry as such, but there is a very, very good live scene here.
With the band having moved around a lot, in regards to your songwriting and various ideas, do you keep absolutely everything that you’ve jotted down, just in case you want to use it in a song in the future?
[Suze:] I try to keep everything. Every year I get a new book and I write loads of stuff in it. I also record everything on my iPhone: ideas or lyrics. And I write notes, like song title ideas or themes. I also use Garage Band a bit. For a lot of this record, Dave would send me ideas and I would download them onto Garage Band and just sing along to them and come up with melodies.
“If you wanna get back at someone, put it in a song; release it to the world. It’s a good ‘fuck-you’. But once a song is out there, it changes meaning and becomes whatever someone wants it to become.”
Are you happy to play some of the old tracks when you’re performing live?
[Suze:] I’m glad we have them! It’s nice to have a back-catalogue to refer to now and again.
When you’re playing live, old tracks and new, do you like to deliver songs similarly to their studio versions, or do you like to rearrange some of them?
[Suze:] Sometimes we go off [on a tangent].
[Dave:] Yeah, but it’s funny because a song like Stitch is still evolving, and when we play it live, it’s still growing from its recorded version. That’s not a conscious thing – like, oh let’s rearrange this song for the sake of just doing it – it’s the way it’s turning out.
[Suze:] Yeah, that’s a very powerful song live. But when it comes to the classic songs, we give the audience what they’re used to. To be honest, I don’t think people really appreciate it when you change stuff around too much. What we do a lot of, is we’ll mess around with a song like Ain’t Gonna Get and tag it with a crazy musical piece; a different groove…
[Dave:] Or turn it into something like Doom Metal [begins imitating a mad metal guitarist].
[Suze:] But I leave that up to the guys; they’re the musos.
Did you miss the boys during your solo career, Suze?
I did the solo thing in the ’80s and I hated it. I’m never going to do it again. The worst thing is that you don’t have the group with you to bounce stuff off, or have a laugh with. I then did the solo thing again later, but it wasn’t really solo because Dave came and lived in Boston with me, so I always had Dave there…
Why didn’t you guys just call yourselves Baby Animals through that phase anyway?
[Dave:] It didn’t feel right at that time.
[Suze:] The band was still tied to a label at that time. It took us six or so years to get off Imago and we couldn’t record anywhere.
[Dave:] Still, we worked together, and it felt like family.
You guys are close personally as well as members of the same band. Do relationships ever get strenuous when working together?
[Suze:] Well, we never have fights.
[Dave:] We’re pretty well aware to keep the business thing separate, too.
[Suze:] We’re very encouraging of each other, musically. I can just say something to Dave and he’ll get it straight away. And I just love what he plays.
Suze, there were stories circulating that you were going to front INXS…
Well they asked me to, and I didn’t think it was the right thing. Then I started working with Andrew Farris for a while. We thought, let’s have a go, and so we wrote together. Because the comparisons with Michael [Hutchence] were always going to be there, getting a girl to front the band would have been a little easier to deal with – people wouldn’t have wanted to compare [voices] straight away. So we did talk for a long time. But then they did that TV show, so that made my mind up for me…
Once they’d gone ‘reality TV’ it was a no-go?
Where is the weirdest place you’ve heard one of your songs being played?
[Suze:] On an episode of Seinfeld, they played one of our songs in the background; the scene was set in a record store. I think it was One Word.
[Dave:] I can’t think… I did hear the demo tape of the Baby Animals tribute band, though!
Is there really a tribute band?
[Dave:]Yeah, they’re from Sydney. They’re called Early Warning.
They should have called themselves the ‘Baby’ Baby Animals. Turning to more about your songwriting; have either of you ever put a family member or friend into a song? Maybe changed their name for the sake of discretion?
[Dave, laughing:]Not me personally, because I don’t contribute that much lyrically. However I have played some guitar solos dedicated to family members, with a bit of voodoo in there…
[Suze:] There might be some stuff on this record that pisses people off. If you wanna get back at someone, put it in a song; release it to the world. [Laughs] It’s a good ‘fuck-you’. I mean, I can’t mention any names but there’s some stuff in there… But once a song is out there, it changes meaning and becomes whatever someone wants it to become.
For Baby Animals tour dates from this weekend (Saturday 4 May, onward) click here. The band is being supported by Killing Heidi.