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INTERVIEW – Dave Leslie, Baby Animals – October 2013

| 18 October 2013 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Dave Leslie, Baby Animals – October 2013
By Shane Pinnegar

Baby Animals Dave Leslie 01

The Baby Animals are back with This Is Not The End, their first rock album in twenty years and are embarking on their national ‘Feed The Birds’ tour in Brisbane tonight.

Guitarist Dave Leslie, who along with former Perth girl Suze DeMarchi are the only remaining original members of the band, picks up the phone as his real estate agent is taking aerial photos of his house using a camera on a remote control drone. “It’s the best toy I’ve ever seen, man!” he enthuses.

Chatting over the course of almost half an hour Leslie proves himself to be far more laconic than most rock n’ roll types. He’s checked out 100% ROCK MAGAZINE’s website, for starters, and likes what he’s seen – especially my recent interview with 80’s songstress Kim Wilde. “How cool is she!” he says.

But we’re not here to talk about 80’s guilty pleasures or hi tech toys – we want to know if it was hard work or a natural fit to make This Is Not The End sound like the modern take on vintage Baby Animals that it does.

Baby Animals - This Is The End CD

“I actually think it came really naturally,” Leslie says, “It’s funny ‘cos Email, which was the first single, was the last song written for the record. That was kind of a formula thing – well, not a formula thing, but that just evolved like it was a bit of a rocker. It’s got a singalong chorus and all those elements that people who follow our band really love, like Rush You and Early Warning and songs like that. It’s ticks those boxes, so that was sort of a natural thing to choose. As far as the sound goes, the two new guys [Dario Bortolin on bass and drummer Mick Skelton] slotted in really easily and that’s what came out, really!”

Having formed in 1989, it only took one year before the band were signed to a worldwide deal with Imago/BMG, a deal which led to the band’s two outstanding albums and worldwide sales of over a million copies of 1991’s self titled debut alone.

Twenty years on there’s no major label and no mega-recording budgets – that’s gotta make it a rather different experience, this time round.

“Abso— TOTALLY different! Yeah.” Leslie agrees, “Above & beyond having to pay for everything, we were also given so much more control over the whole project – more so than in the past. Dave Nicholas was the producer and engineer and we worked really closely with him, and we did it in a smaller studio ‘cos we didn’t have the big budget or anything like that.

“It was refreshing to do it that way, ‘cos we’ve never been privy to be able to sit in on the mixing or the mastering or things like that, so we had a lot more control over the actual product than we previously had. We were making calls, having got stuff back from mastering, saying ‘a little less of this, a little more of that’ or whatever. Stuff that back in the olden days – twenty years ago – your album was mixed and taken away to New York to get mastered and then you were given a copy and told ‘this is your record’.

Baby Animals 01

“Your control was removed – but by the same token, you pay for it, working with an independent label. It streamlines the decision making process – so there wasn’t some secretary who doesn’t like the kick drum sound, or the tea lady has a problem with the bass or whatever! It was all pretty much kept into a really small group of people, the creative process. It has its advantages, definitely, but at the end of the day it’s all coming out of your pocket, there’s no major label paying for everything and sending you over to Europe to tour…”

Going back to the original flush of success for the band, there was a really conscious effort to deliver Baby Animals to the public as a band, rather than a vehicle for DeMarchi. Some pockets of the media, however, insisted on focussing on the attractive frontwoman to the detriment of Leslie, bass player Eddie Parise and drummer Frank Celenza.

Australian Rolling Stone Magazine, for instance, put her on the cover when the band had specifically stipulated it was a band picture or nothing, devoting an entire page inside the magazine to a letter from the editor justifying their decision. Did the spotlight falling primarily on their singer cause internal friction with the three boys in the band?

SONY DSC

Leslie pauses a while before answering, “Ummmm… not really,” he wavers, before changing tack a little.

“It did a little bit. Suzie was the one who was trying to push the ‘whole band’ agenda, and usually photographers would say ‘nah, we just want to shoot her’. I can understand it – I look in mirrors just like everyone else does, and I can understand why they would want to shoot Suze and not us, but we always tried to keep [the] band thing to the front.”

The response to the band’s reformation has been overwhelmingly positive, proving that in this country at least, the name – and, crucially, the brand – Baby Animals is still commercially viable. Without the pressure of trying to prove themselves and break their name, is it more enjoyable being part of the Baby Animals nowadays?

“Yeah, I guess it is AS enjoyable, if not more,” Leslie says. “Because you’ve had the benefit of hindsight, and we’re all a little more mature now – and we’re all enjoying the opportunity to be able to do it again. We’re all enjoying being able to get out and play with people that we love, that’s the enjoyment now.

“Twenty years ago when we were all kinda younger, it was just great fun, we were riding a wave and that was awesome fun too – lots of parties and stuff. Whereas these days I go on the road to GET a good night’s sleep!” says the father of three boys, including twins.

“True man – if I can sleep in past 8 o’clock I’m happy – and you can fuckin’ do that on the road, most days!”

On the strength of that mighty debut album – a classic Oz Rock album even now, over twenty years later, Baby Animals quickly found themselves supporting the likes of Bryan Adams, The Black Crowes, Robert Plant and Van Halen – the latter on a six month, 60-date tour of America. It’s a big leap forwards from playing pubs one day and supporting the world’s biggest rock bands in arenas within a year or so, and one which provided lots of learning experiences for the young foursome.

Baby Animals - self titled CD

“What did we learn?” ponders the guitarist. “To pace yourself. It’s great fun having parties and all that fun on the road, but if you don’t look after yourself, you can crumble, I think. We did long tours, too, man – we’d go in all gung ho for the first month or so, then have to pull back and conserve your energy and conserve your health and everything like that. But [there were] so many lessons that we learnt. You can’t tour for six months with a band like Van Halen and not come away having had the ultimate learning experience on how it’s done, you know? It was really good.”

The Van Halen tour was on the back of their Grammy award winning 1992 album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, and several years before tensions between Eddie Van Halen and Sammy Hagar would bring that era of the band to a shuddering halt. Leslie says that the American superstars treated the Australians more than decently and without any hint of diva-like behaviour, but the same couldn’t be said for all of the hangers-on on that tour.

Baby Animals - Shaved and Dangerous CD

“I saw a couple of lessons in how NOT to act by other people who were guests of the band,” he laughs. “CC Deville [Poison] being one of them! I don’t wanna trash anybody, though… But [Van Halen] were all very cool, their crew was very accommodating, we were given sound checks wherever possible – sometimes time restraints and their band having to run through stuff and everything, it wasn’t possible to get sound checks every gig – but we were really well looked after and taken under their wing, really.

“They were a really great bunch of guys – most people on that level are, I think. They’ve been up there for so long that it’s as much a novelty for them to share what they go through with somebody who hasn’t gone through it before, somebody like us. So they shared a lot of their touring experience with us, which was really good. They spent a couple of nights on our bus, just jamming in the back room – it was a dream come true, really, and it happened so quickly! It’s only times like now where you get to recollect, it kind’ve gives you goosebumps! That was Van Halen!

“It was a really long run – we became part of the furniture really, swallowed up in this huge juggernaut of ten semi trailers and eight tour buses full of stuff, that would just devour small cities! That’s what it felt like,” he laughs.

“There was 70 people, and I couldn’t even tell you how many personnel they had in their entourage. It was just amazing. And they’d base themselves in Chicago or one of the capital cities and fly in a lot of the time to their regional cities, whereas we did it on the road with the semis, so we were there all the time and just being involved with something of that magnitude was just awesome. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

It wasn’t to last though. Touring for second album Shaved & Dangerous was cut short when DeMarchi started suffering nodules in her throat and had to stop singing until surgery could correct the problem. A succession of legal hassles with their old manager, and the 1995 collapse of their label Imago left the band dead in the water on the verge of their first major US tour, and in early 1996 Baby Animals folded.

Moving forwards to 2007, all four original members reunited to record Il Grande Silenzio, an acoustic album of their past work which was issued in early 2008. At that time various members were quoted as being enthusiastic to continue the alliance and make a new studio album, yet it would be five long years, and with half a new line-up, before This Is Not The End would see the light of day.

Baby Animals original lineup

Baby Animals original lineup

Why didn’t the reunion of the original line-up work out?

Leslie takes a long, slow intake of breath, obviously wanting to choose his words wisely.

“We gave it a good old crack…” he says slowly. “After Il Grande Silenzio we stuck ourselves in a room in L.A., and started to attempt to write another record… and just argued.

“The band just bickered and fought the whole time,” he continues carefully. “It was no fun at all. There was a lot of resentment held because of the way the old band finished, with the court case and the management and all of that. There was a lot of blame being put on Suze which was, how would you call it… unwarranted, I thought, by the other guys.

“Aaaaaaaaand… I turned around at the end of that experience to Suze and said ‘if we have to do a record like this, I’d rather go sit on a beach.’ ‘Cos it wasn’t fun. Call me old fashioned but I always thought that playing music, when you PLAYED something that infers you’re actually enjoying it! And she basically said ‘I’m not having fun either.’ So we just kept in contact – it wasn’t like the other boys were sacked either, I just basically [said] that it was them or me. And she said ‘well, it’s them or me’ too – so we basically just chose each other!

“It just didn’t happen, there was too much tension. I’m getting too old for that, really, and some of the behaviour that was displayed, I just… just don’t need it. It’s a bummer – they’re great players and all that, but it gets to the point that personality conflicts that you can tolerate when you’re younger, you seem to have less tolerance for and your time becomes more precious.”

With the Feed The Birds national tour about to kick off, what are people going to hear?

“It sounds GOOOOOOD!” says Leslie, happy to have the subject changed. “We actually did a warm up gig in Newcastle last Saturday night. It was great to do some songs that we’ve never done before, because we put it to a bit of a vote on the internet so people could vote for what songs they want to hear on the DVD we’re going to be doing at the end of it. And some of the song choices were surprising – I wasn’t expecting to play them! So it was good, everyone’s in a good headspace, the band’s playing well, we all get along great, we’re all great mates and it’s a very pleasurable experience, it really is.

Baby Animals 02

“There’s a couple from Suze’s solo record [Telelove, from 1999] which, because it’s not a Baby Animals record, she was always a bit reticent to play, but we’ve given those a couple of airings. [There’s] a few more from Shaved & Dangerous. It’s a real mixed bag actually – I was surprised at some of the songs that were voted for, genuinely surprised.

“It’s light & shade. It goes from a pin drop to an absolute scream”

So, almost 25 years after forming the band, having done all the pub gigs, US and European Arenas, experienced so many of the highs and lows that being a successful muso can engender, how does Dave Leslie feel about the ride so far?

“Ahh, it’s great man, you know.” He says, genuinely happy, “As I was saying before, having the chance to sort of recall events and a bit of the journey, it’s awesome, and no-one’s more happy than I am to have the chance to keep getting away with it – it’s really good. I’m a pretty happy camper.”

Baby Animals Dave Leslie 02

2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the formation of The Baby Animals and with their latest album prophetically titled This Is Not The End, the big question is, can they get back out there and do it again on a similar sort of scale?

“On the scale that it was before?” queries Leslie, before continuing slowly and thoughtfully “I’m not sure… we’re definitely going touring next year – that’s how we make our income, you can’t make money from records sales and publishing any more. I’d like us to be at the level we were before, but I just can’t see it happening.

“[The industry is] completely different. I dunno… the record companies had a lot to do with it, and it cost a lot of money to keep a band at that sort of profile and it would be awesome, but I think it would be unrealistic to expect that it would all happen like that again.

“But obviously we’re still writing, the new guys are involved in the writing process these days and they’re bringing some great stuff to the table, so from the creative side of things, it would be great to be able to do another record, or an EP or whatever. Because if you tour without anything out, then you’re touring on nostalgia, but if you’re constantly putting new stuff out it gives you a great angle to be able to tour on as well, you know. So we might just sort of keep pushing it, certainly

Baby Animals seem to have a fervent fan base here in Australia, but what about America and Europe, their stomping ground for those big league tours with Van Halen, Bryan Adams and so on. Is there still interest in the band from overseas?

“There is interest,” he acknowledges, “we get the occasional yippee-aye-ay on Facebook from people who saw us in Germany or wherever – and we’ve caught up with a few old friends through that, but I’m not sure that the interest would warrant the expense of going over there at this point. We’d need to get an album released over there at some point and get some kind of groundswell, because it’s a costly venture – we don’t have that worldwide deal with Imago/BMG, kind of thing, so we’ll see.

Baby Animals Dave Leslie 03

“It would be great if it happened, and my bag’s already packed and waiting by the front door, but we’ll see. Brisbane will have to do for now – and Adelaide, and The Astor in Perth – I’m pretty bloody happy with that for now.”

Baby Animals ‘Feed The Birds’ tour dates:
October 18 – The Zoo, Brisbane
October 19 – The Zoo, Brisbane
October 24 – The Governor Hindmarsh, Adelaide
October 26 – The ANU Bar, Canberra
October 30 – The Wool Exchange, Geelong
October 31 – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
November 2 – The Astor Theatre, Perth
November 9 – Metro Theatre, Sydney

 

 

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