DAVE Leslie reclined in his plush seat, surveying the cafe of a five star London Hotel that sits imposingly across the road from Lords. He looked like he’d just won rock’n’roll’s version of The Ashes.
“Yeah, it’s worse than I thought it would be!” Leslie grinned
Vocalist Suze DeMarchi, sitting adjacent, joined in the self-deprecating banter. “This is exactly the way I thought it would be – except I thought we’d be playing Wembley the week after we did the record!”
Despite their nonchalant manner, tonight could well have been the biggest so far in the lives of Leslie, DeMarchi, bassist Eddie Parise and drummer Frank Celenza. It’s one thing to snare a global contract with a new record company, it’s another to have your album go platinum in America and yet another to play showcases in the US just weeks after your first release there.
But tonight, the Baby Animals play Wembley Arena, perhaps the most famous such venue in the world, two weeks before the release of their LP in the UK. The morning interview was hastily arranged but there were little signs of nerves, despite the interruption to their routine.
“Because we’ve been playing every night, you don’t do much press when you’re playing,” Suze, looking typically stunning despite her jeans-and-tshirt mode of dress, said. “You just want to think about the gig. On days off, we do a lot.”
Leslie: “Some days you come off and the company has organised a bit of a shmooze and you you don’t particularly like to greet and meet.”
DeMarchi: “To greet your meat. Hahahaha. Greet my meat!”
The Baby Animals had to do just that tonight at Wembley Arena. Grinning and chatting idly with record company types, retailers and such before their opening set for Bryan Adams inside the cavernous backstage area, their minds were almost certainly elsewhere.
Exploding into tradition show opener “Rush You”, the Animals marked out their territory from the beginning. They are, essentially, a thumping rock band – albeit with radio-friendly ingredients. Leslie’s guitar howls, Parise’s bass pumps.
Perhaps they are a little TOO heavy for Adams’ white bread, Radio One-weaned audience, for many of tonight’s punters began by clapping only politely.
As the show went on, however, the audience grew more enthusiastic. Playing to a new audience is never easy – particularly one which is here to see someone else.
While the superb “Early Warning” didn’t receive anywhere near the accolades it deserves, “Working For The Enemy” was spine-tingling and “One Word” – with pitch-perfect harmonies and and note-perfect playing – would have impressed even the harshest critic.
“They’ve sold 2000 copies of the album on import in England – just in the last couple of weeks!” Suze, lifting a cup of black copy to her mouth a few hours earlier, enthused.
“But we do deals with the record company. They cover some of it and we cover some of it and hopefully in the end we’ll be able to cover it by record sales.”
So far in Australia, those record sales are over 50,000 – platinum status – while the continuing MTV exposure of “Painless” in the US is keeping the figures ticking over there was well.
DEMARCHI’s luxurious lodgings in London are a far cry from her last visit, some seven or eight years ago, when she was a struggling solo artist under contract with EMI. Now a hard-rockin’ mutha, she quickly rejects theory that there is some dim, dark disco past she is keen to hide.
“The material was pop-rock,” she revealed. “There wasn’t really that much material. I had a few singles released and that’s it. Three and a half years with EMI – it doesn’t say much.
“I was over here, just getting pissed all the time basically.”
The accommodation has changed but apparently the late night habits haven’t. The Animals, who will this year tour the US with Van Halen in surely the most prestigious support slot EVER clinched by a rising Aussie act, still like to drink. Suze and Dave are bleary-eyed and admit to having spent quite some time “hanging out” with Adams, his band and entourage.
“When we left Australia, we weren’t 100 per cent confirmed that we were doing this tour,” Demarchi explained. “It was Bryan’s decision. He got the album and he saw the videos and he put the album on for a day in his kitchen and was rocking out to it. He really loved us and he gave us the gig!”
There is no doubt the Baby Animals were the biggest new act in Australia of 1991 and the way they and manager John Woodruff went about their business is perhaps a blueprint for the future. Woodruff has a major interest in Imago, a company raised out of the ashes of bought-out Chrysalis.
With much of that company’s resources and contacts, Imago has done – in DeMarchi’s words – “a big number” on the Baby Animals. Almost as soon as the LP was released in Australia and a local headlining tour was taken care of, Imago had the Animals out on the road.
First major stop was Los Angeles, where they made an unlikely appearance at the Concrete Foundations Forum – a yearly heavy metal convention that attracts head bangers from across the world. It was not, according to the band, the best of starts.
“It was a joke,” says Suze, stony-faced. “You can quote me on that.
“You can quote us all on that.
“It was badly-organised. It was full of hair farmers. When there was a band playing, half the people didn’t know there was a band playing because there were other events going on.”
Leslie: “We’re not really a heavy metal band. We’re a heavy band but we’re not heavy metal.”
Some more puritan Australian critics have claimed the Animals – whose album was produced by svengali-kike US knob-twiddler Mike Chapman, responsible for Lita Ford and the Runaways – sound American.
If the Animals aren’t heavy metal, what are they?
“Um, we sound Australian when we talk; aside from that, I don’t know,” says Suze.
“I don’t know if there’s a definite Australian sound. There’s definitely personality traits, I guess, in particular bands from Australia. You know, they have a different attitude.
“I guess in some ways it affects the music as far as the intensity of it goes. I think there’s a whole not of intense bands around Australia and that whole live aspect … it’s such a healthy scene. It really builds a strong, solid base.
“I think it’s mainly a matter of who’s in the band. I don’t think it really matters where you’re from, unless you’re doing really generic folk music.”
Leslie, however, sees the sonic approach as being distinctly antipodean.
“I think we’re Australian in that the music is guitar, blues-based through Marshalls. It’s like The Angels, AC/DC, it’s that sort of formula. There’s definitely that sort of ingredient … in MY band!”
THE next step for Imago was to take the band, literally, to the people. If there was any city in the United States where this Perth-born quartet had been given more-than-normal airplay, Imago took them there.
The company linked up with a local station, organised a showcase, gave away a bunch of tickets and hyped the shit out of the Baby Animals.
“At the gig in Pittsburgh, the radio station announced that the couple had won a trip to Australia to see the Baby Animals perform!” Leslie states in astonishment.
“The radio station had given away the trip.”
With the Animals now kicking off a US tour in Dallas on January 28 which included their stint with America’s Favourite Band, the Pennsylvanian couple may have to hang around down under for quite some time before they see Suze and company again.
The “boutique” nature of Imago’s band roster has given these Australian hopefuls maximum effort and resources. No matter what happens now, the decision not to opt for an established label has been vindicated
“I guess in the beginning there was a bit of apprehension but we really liked the idea. It was a new one because a new company is going to work its arse off to get it happening, isn’t it?” Suze, once a 12-year-old Perth folk singer, mused.
“I would much prefer that than going with an established record company that signs 30 acts a week and puts out 130 singles every fortnight.
“You just become part of the machinery. As far as Imago’s concerned, we’re completely involved the whole time. Or, I should say, they’re completely involved the whole time.”
The band holds no fears about losing their profile at home.
“No, ’cause we’ve been around for a while,” said DeMarchi. “You can’t stay in one place. There’s so many places to reach.”
Leslie: “I think it’ll be good because we’re just starting to get the floodgate effect happening, where we were just starting to pull good attendances at the (home) gigs, headlining, and now we’ve pulled it away . So then we drop the album, we play the live-on-MTV thing as well. We’ve really got it happening.”
No doubt about that.
If there’s one thing the Baby Animals still have to work on – and they admit it – it’s their stagecraft in the massive arenas they’ve been frequenting of late. While Suze does her best to be as animated as possible, none of the foursome covered much ground at Wembley and left the punter with the impression they were standing on the edge of the stage.
“Mate, playing Sheffield Arena is a lot different to playing Springers,” Leslie grinned from across the table as soundcheck time approaches.
“The whole magnitude of it takes a little while to get used to.”
DeMarchi admits the three-year-old band is still somewhat spellbound by the concept.
“Dave’s birthday in London, we got, like, 9000 people chanting happy birthday to him! Dave thought we’d all forgotten his birthday. The whole day he was walking around going, like, ‘wankers’, to himself. So we got him; right in the middle of the gig we got the whole of Dublin to sing happy birthday to him. Boy, was he embarassed.”
The Baby Animals reckon all this talk about the Australian live scene being on its last legs is crap. It’s the best in the world, they say.
“The live scene’s great in Australia,” summed up Suze forthrightly. “It’s the healthiest scene in the world, by far, of anywhere I’ve been.”
And perhaps no-one is better qualified to say exactly that, because the Baby Animals are the biggest living proof we’ve had of it in years.