By STEVE MASCORD
“TOM Morello played ‘Bulls On Parade’ for my daughter’s 12th birthday party,” Suze DeMarchi says, raising an eyebrow just slightly
The Australian chanteuse’s long-time foil, guitarist Dave Leslie, interjects. “It was fucking unbelievable too. I’ve got it on film.”
De Marchi ruminates over whether she, too, has the footage, and then outdoes herself. “And Steve Perry got up and sang happy birthday to Bebe as well. She’s had a pretty good run….”
We are in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Alexandria, a haven for light industry, hideous buildings and close enough to the airport for jets to roar overhead every few minutes. Sequestered at a rickety table in near darkness are Suze, singer for cult (if you’re from anywhere but Australia) rockers the Baby Animals, and Leslie.
Although the rehearsal space, Top End Sound, is relatively new, our gathering could easily have convened almost a quarter-century earlier in any one of a number of nearby studios, back when Suze and Dave were enthralling Antipodeans with their punchy, catchy and commercial self-titled debut.
But Suze would be telling very different stories.
In 1991, she was not the former Mrs Nuno Bettencourt. Gavin Rossdale, admittedly, may have already written “Comedown”, on the six-million-selling 16 Stone album, about dating her. But no-one had heard it. The BAs had had not broken up, DeMarchi had not moved to America, she had not reunited with – and then split from – the other two founding members, bassist Eddie Parise and drummer Frank Celenza.
Not only has the experience of being in a rock’n’roll power couple give her some yarns to tell journalists, it’s informed the heart-wrenchingly confessional Baby Animals comeback album, This Is Not The End.
And so here we are, in 2014. Suze, 50, has aged spectacularly well, although our interview almost took place over the phone despite us being in the same city, due to a persistent neck complaint for which she has just seen a doctor.
“Whatever you do, you want a lot of people to hear it,” says DeMarchi, devouring a health shake with a similar hue to that of plutonium.
“That’s one of the reasons we re-released (the album) with added stuff. We don’t have a big label behind us throwing everything they’ve got at it. It’s really up to us to get it out as much as we can.
“I moved back to Australia, probably, three years ago now. When I moved back, we started on it pretty much straight away, within six months. This is the end of the cycle now.”
But this is not the end.
DeMarchi was never destined for an ordinary life. The daughter of a singer and a panel-beater from Perth, Western Australia, she was singing in local bars by the age of 17 despite her sister being the one who received formal training as a vocalist. Suze went to London in the late eighties with a Stg1 million EMI record deal – but like most young Australians in the capital to this day, she spent most of her time and money getting drunk.
“I was really broke when I lived in London,” recalls DeMarchi, dressed in stylish, loose-fitting back with a blue scarf.
“I had a big record deal there but I didn’t have any money. I was temping and doing all sorts of stuff to make money. I was on the dole there for a while.”
She worked at Abbey Road, with the likes of Steve Lillywhite and Simon Climie, and released three pop-rock singles while rebelling against pressure to enter hit-making factories like that of Stock, Aitken & Waterman. Back then, record companies could just write off such insubordination as a bad investment.
A return to Australia led to the union with Leslie, Parise and Celenza, management with raconteur John Woodruff and becoming the marquee signing for Imago Records – a company formed by key figures from Chrysalis – which went on to collapse at the end of 1994.
Along with the long-forgotten Hurricanes and Desert Cats, the Baby Animals featured on the flipside of The Angels’ landmark 1990 single “Dogs Are Talking”, toured with the late Doc Neeson’s crew, and were off and running.
Despite her seemingly delicate good looks, Demarchi swore like a sailor and threw herself into touring and its attendant excesses like a seasoned road dog. It was a bankable combination of beauty and humorous coarseness at a time when hard rock was still holding its own, grunge a growing speck on the horizon. Before long, Baby Animals were treading the boards at Wembley Arena supporting Bryan Adams and attending Van Halen’s beneath-stage party/orgies as the megastars’ US support band.
DeMarchi says Sammy Hagar’s bacchanalian mid-show breaks, as described in his biography, weren’t even the best party in the nearest square few feet. Although Hagar wore a robe onstage after Michael Anthony’s bass solo to hide an erection, it was Anthony’s party during Eddie Van Halen’s spot you REALLY wanted to go to.
“(Hagar’s) was boring,” she recalls. “Michael Anthony’s was rocking. His was the one, the Tiki Terrace.”
On one occasion, infamous groupie “Sweet” Connie Hamzy asked Suze for permission to fellate her band. She said yes, they said no. As the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge Tour wore on, and groupies began to interact with roadies’ torches in the beneath-stage bar, the Australians gave the parties a wide berth, too.
What happened next, however, is where things took a REALLY dramatic turn. It’s also where children Bebe, 18, and Lorenzo, 11, join our narrative. Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt saw Suze on MTV, obtained her phone number through management, and invited her to see the band in London during December 1992.
One of her favourite yarns occurred that very night. She became excited when Queen’s Brian May saw her backstage and crossed the room towards her. Flattered such an icon would recognise her, Suze was more than nonplussed when he asked her to iron his shirt.
DeMarchi and Bettencourt married in Portugal, hiring a DC 10 to fly in their families and friends.
The follow-up to the band’s 1991 self-titled debut, 1993’s Shaved & Dangerous (named after a magazine in their Bahamas recording studio that was not, it’s safe to say, aimed at barbers), was less successful but still made its Australian chart debut at two.
In the meantime, DeMarchi and Bettencourt moved to Boston to raise a family. Imago fell over. Legal battles ensued, to the point there was soon no band to fight over. A DeMarchi solo album, Telelove, made few ripples, even in Oz.
In a recent interview with Australian Rolling Stone, Suze described intense feelings of “displacement” living in Beantown, and then Los Angeles. She underwent therapy and was put on medication.
DeMarchi returned to Australia in 2009, with her marriage ending the following year. “I wouldn’t have left,” she told an interviewer. “It took him to leave”.
The schism was the catalyst for the song “Email”. “I don’t wanna be with you anymore/You wanna be with me … Please, please when you look for me/Don’t look for that girl/That I used to be/You won’t find me”.
DeMarchi, to this old hack, is a different girl than she used to be: more wary, more determined, less frivolous.
When I begin asking about the inspirations for some of the new songs, she looks back defiantly. “Email? You fucking sent it in an email, you know? What do you want me to say?
“The songs are really self-explanatory and they are written in moments where you have a need or a desire to share that feeling or that emotion.”
During and after the marriage dissolution, the band would become DeMarchi’s refuge. But as she emerged from what she described as a psychological “haze”, more conflict and recrimination was just around the corner.
An acoustic album, featuring Demarchi, Leslie and former Noiseworks man Justin Stanley and a song which would end up on TINTE, “Stitch”, was the precursor to a full BA reunion.
Leslie, Celenza and Leslie flew out to Los Angeles.
Leslie: “We did reform, we did have a bit of a run, we did try to write another album and all we did was argue.
“All we did was bring up this old shit that should have been left behind. All it was, was airing our dirty laundry and it was no fun. It got to the point where ‘if it was going to be like this, I’d rather not do it’. I want to go out and play with people who are actually enjoying themselves.
“… there was a lot of resentment against Suze for marrying Nuno and moving away, you know, effectively dismantling the band. Man, both those guys held that quite firmly and were very resentful. “
DeMarchi: “When Dave and I worked together on the acoustic record, that’s when we started talking about ‘let’s do another Baby Animals record’. Then I started talking to Eddie and Frank and they said ‘we’ll come over’. They stayed at my house for, probably, two or three weeks. We worked on ideas, some ideas. We didn’t get very far with most of them.
“We got in a rehearsal room and it became apparent there was some animosity there. People were still pissed off about stuff that had happened 10 years beforehand. It was, like, what? So we did a tour, still thinking positively that this could work. But it was just too hard.
“I love working with Dave. The band is, kind of, him and I.
“… when you’re spending so much time trying to appease everyone and explain … life’s too short. When people start to lose that faith in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, you’re never going to help them to understand. If they don’t understand why you do things a certain way, if the way you’re writing is … the spark has to be there from somewhere. If you’re getting knocked down when you’re presenting things or ideas even, about the band, not even musical ones … it’s not a good working environment.”
Drum and bass duties have changed hands since. Mick Skelton is the current skinsman, with Dario Bortolin on bass after a tenure by singer-songwriter Matt Cornell.
TINTE is a wrought and heart-felt work, neither as blustering as the band’s debut nor as contrary as the follow-up. It’s the platter that most fits the AOR remit of this magazine, of the three.
DeMarchi: “Live is still our bread-winner, although we made more from this record than we would have from any of the other records because we have a higher royalty rate and our costs are a lot lower. We made this last record for A$60,000. The first album was A$250,000. We flew to New York, we had Mike Chapman. Now, we got that money together. We got it from playing. We paid for it.”
Suze describes herself as pop songwriter with love of heavy guitars. That sensibility is well represented in mid-tempo tracks such as “Bonfires”, “Under Your Skin”, “Stitch” and “Winters Day”.
“Got It Bad” was recorded before a 2009 tour as a single, with Bettencourt on bass and in the video. “That was purely because we couldn’t afford anything else,” DeMarch says with a wry smile “He helped us out with that.”
The song, one of the four or five best in the band’s history, has been re-recorded. Nuno is gone. The couple are still friends, however.
Whereas Suze once railed against a magazine for leaving her bandmates off the cover, most of the Baby Animals’ internet posts are signed “Sx” – although she argues other members can post as they like.
With the help of their independent label, the Baby Animals have embraced social media. They’ve also attracted attention for a stage stunt that would probably make even Gene Simmons wince.
DeMarchi: “The feed-the-birds? It just happened one night. Just one of those things. Someone up the front saw me skolling a bottle of wine and said they wanted some. So they opened their mouth and I emptied a mouthful of wine into theirs’. Dave said after the show ‘it looked like you were feeding the birds’ … then people started to line up for it.
“(Months) later, this chick rocked up. She was at the show with her mother. A year later she showed up, she was just about to have a baby, she said ‘look what you just did to me’.”
Leslie, who jokes he spent the band’s haitus “in prison” but was actually doing session and advert work, seems eager to write and record a fourth Baby Animals studio record. “You’ve got to keep looking ahead,” he says. “Like a shark, you’ve got to keep swimming.”
DeMarchi, however, is more cautious about repeating the painful but cathartic process.
“… you’ve got to be really in the right frame of mind to do a new record. It’s such an emotional journey, putting out a record. Especially this last one, (it) was like … big, for us. It was a great reassurance for Dave and I – or anyway, for me – that I love the way we write together.”
When I ask where and when they think their UK profile died, Leslie answers: “I think for me, it stopped halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh in the toilet of a bus called the Nighthawk II, when someone did a poo. That’s where it stopped for me.”
Demarchi laughs heartily, the way close friends do. “That was it. We’re never going back. You never want to relive that.
“People are often asking when we’re going to come back and play there. It would have to be … I’d love to go back there and play but it would have to work financially.”
With that, Suze reaches back to long before our previous meetings, before the Baby Animals, being Mrs Nuno Bettencourt, Michael Anthony’s parties, Tom Morello and Steve Perry, for her final anecdote.
The place is London, the time was the late 1980s. “I kind of got pally with one of the girls there at the label, EMI,” she recalls.
“They were all going to Paris for this long weekend and I had no money. I said ‘can I go on the train, can I stay in
your room with you?’. I ended up in Paris, I got to see Queen play at the Hippodrome and it was just like, one of those moments.
“… it was one of those perfect weekends. I had no money at all but I had the best time. It was at the Ritz! How did I stay at the Ritz when I had no money? I blagged my way into all this stuff. I had seriously, four quid in my bag. I had the most amazing meals.
“The band far outreached any dreams that I had for a band. I didn’t expect much. I did … I expected to do something good. We all worked hard enough. We were dedicated enough for it. It was just a great ride. It’s still a great ride.
“I’ve had such a great time. That’s what life’s about. It’s not about getting number one and being this or that. It’s about just getting by, and having a good time while you’re doing it.”