The Baby Animals are all grown up, but there’s still a lot of life left in them. There’s a young energy about this classic Australian rock band, as they prepare their triumphant return to the spotlight in 2013 with a new album release, This Is Not The End.
The Baby Animals strike a familiar pose with their enigmatic singer Suze DeMarchi and her talismanic guitarist Dave Leslie returning for action. They’re joined by Dario Bortolin on bass and Mick Skelton on drums. It’s a different animal this time.
“We feel more driven than we were when we were younger,” says Suze. “We didn’t know what to expect when we were younger. Now we know what it takes and how much work you need to do and what it all means.”
DeMarchi, a peerless frontlady, opens her heart on the new set. The Perth-born singer and guitarist has penned or co-written all songs on this, their fourth studio album, some of which draw on the pain of the break-up of her marriage with guitar hero Nuno Bettencourt.
It’s been five years since their last album, Il Grande Silenzio, from 2008. And more than two decades have passed since the Baby Animals exploded on the scene with Baby Animals, a chart-topping album which collected numerous fans and awards, and set a path for the band to play arenas and stadiums around the world.
This Is Not The End is a return to classic Baby Animals form. It’s a genuine rock album, with ARIA Award-winning producer David Nicholas taking duties behind the mixing desk. It’s conclusive proof that the Baby Animals haven’t lost a step.
The album was a fast turnaround. After an intensive writing period, the band entered a two-week pre-production period. The recording stage at Sydney’s Blackfoot Studio was also relatively quick. This Is Not the End was cut in three weeks, and mixed-down in another two. The mixing sessions were split across the Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne with David Nicholas behind the desk, and at Studio 301 in Byron Bay, where Nick DiDia (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen) lent his considerable skill. The tracks were mastered by Don Bartley at Benchmark Mastering in Sydney. “We did a lot of preparation for it, so when the red light was ‘on’ everyone knew what to do,” explains Dave Leslie. “It was then just a matter of getting great performances.”
And great performances are precisely what transpired. “I’m really, really proud of this album,” enthuses Suze. “I’m so glad we got through it and that I love every track on it.”
The path tread by Baby Animals has had some incredible high points, and some slippery moments. There were the many memorable hits – which have included Early Warning, Rush You, Painless and One Word. The band’s eponymous album spent six weeks at No. 1 in Australia, converting platinum sales eight times. There were ARIA Awards, shows at Wembley in London and friendships with Van Halen, Black Crowes and Bryan Adams, and induction into the Western Australian Music Industry Association’s (WAMi) Hall of Fame. There were no darker times than when the Baby Animals’ U.S.-based label Imago Records collapsed in 1995 as the band was on the verge of greatness Stateside. A binding contract kept the band from striding to the next level.
That situation dismantled the band. The band didn’t break up as much as it was put on blocks and the wheels were taken off it,” notes Leslie.
Did the thought ever cross their minds that the Baby Animals might be no more? “Oh, yeah. All the time,” recalls Suze. “Obviously, when I moved away it was very hard to keep it all together. You really need to be in the same place just to play together. You have to play together as a band. I never lost the idea that we’d work again together. Dave and I always kept in touch and always sent ideas to each other. We kept that dream alive. I specifically moved back to Australia in 2009 so I could work again.”
The Baby Animals are now in firm control of their destiny, and will release their new album in Australia through Social Family, a Sydney-based independent music company. The Imago situation was a tough lesson learned. “You can’t follow the old paradigm anymore. We should be able to hang on to our copyright,” notes Suze. “We should be able to be involved in the way the album is marketed. We’ve left so much of that up to other people before. If you’re working with the right people, it’s the only way to go. To be honest. It just seems obvious. I want to use all the options that are open to us in the modern world.”
Those options include social networking in the digital space. Suze, Dave and the group have leapt into Twitter and Facebook. And of course, the “road” is wide open. Plans are to take the Baby Animals back to the stage to promote the album around the world.
“I love playing live,” says Suze. “Gigs are the pay off. We want to go wherever this record takes us.”
This Is Not The End is the start of a new beginning. While DeMarchi and Leslie admit there were times in the past when the band dynamics were complicated, an at-times dysfunctional unit, the line-up with Dario Bortolin and Mick Skelton is now a “happy family,” moving forward together.
For Suze, the band’s ambitions are aligned. “We want to keep making records,” she admits. “I want to keep recording and touring. I just love it. We’re so lucky to be able to do it. I’d like to have a No. 1. I’d like to have a Grammy, for god’s sake. But that’s not what drives me. We’re doing this purely because we like writing together and we get a kick out of a great riff or a chorus that works. We are an older band, sure. But we sound as strong as we ever sounded. And we have that same drive.”