Following the release of their first studio album in 20 years, and on the eve of their tour, rock legends Baby Animals are young once more, and as ANDY HAZEL finds out singer SUZE DEMARCHI is full of fire, even if she’s not a tech head and calls the music industry "a fucking nightmare".
"Oh it is," says Suze DeMarchi, looking quite possibly the same as she did when caught in the glare of the spotlight in the early 1990s. "The music industry is a fucking nightmare. Last night we played a show at this pop up venue for Rolling Stone in Sydney," she says, keenly expanding on the point. "Afterwards we did a Q&A and this young girl from a band asked me this question – she was so upset, so angry - 'can you tell me how do you make it in this industry? It’s a joke this industry. It’s a fucking joke.’ I told her ‘first of all you have to really love music. Second, you have got to have a great team around you. Without my first manager John Woodruff we would never have got anywhere, because we were young and just wanted to play. I felt bad for her. Now for kids…it’s difficult. We were lucky."
Luck may not play as big a part in DeMarchi’s career as she claims. Leaving school at 15, quitting a nowhere job at 16 and living on the road with her band at 17 shows a confidence and a willingness to fast-track experience that seems rarer now. "Sometimes we’d do three shows a day," she says of her beginnings in Perth rockers Photoplay. "We’d do a university lunchtime show, then a pub gig, which would be three sets, then we’d do a nightclub gig, three sets again; three different 40 minute sets." She says laughing. "That’s where we learned how to play. I did that for two years. I got my work ethic from thinking it’s no big deal to drive [from Perth] to Geraldton to do a set or three. Now I wouldn’t want to - I have enough trouble getting through a one hour 40 minute set!"
Despite the lifestyle change from platinum-selling, world-touring rock star to being a mother and wife (of guitar icon Nuno Bettencourt), DeMarchi claims that her new life in Sydney and reinvention of the Baby Animals doesn’t feel like a job. "When I’m on stage it doesn’t, the other stuff does," she laughs. "I hate the music business. I really, really loathe it. I hate the way it’s structured. I mean, it’s changing but…" she trails off shaking her head. "We’ve gone independent now because I was so tired of signing deals with labels that just fuck you over. The worst thing about it is that they have control over you forever - they own your copyrights forever. This way we own it, we can share the load, you can do things that you want to do. You’re not going to reach as many people as you would if you were on a massive label, but we’ve got the Internet now."
With the release of new album This is Not the End, DeMarchi has eased into the role of a youthful rock legend, dispensing wisdom and dividing her time between parenting, performing and writing. While there are many album highlights, for DeMarchi two songs stand out. "We recorded Stitch on [previous acoustic album] Il Grande Silencio, but I didn’t think we did it properly; I always wanted to give that song the right treatment. I wrote You Still Need Me with Andrew Farriss when I was talking to him about all the INXS stuff [DeMarchi was in discussion about becoming the singer for INXS before they went the reality show route], I love that song."
While there is a buzz about the new album and its single Email, September 2013 marks the 22nd anniversary for the band’s eponymous debut album; the most successful in Australian music history until the landing of Jet. "It doesn’t feel like 20 years," she muses. "And I think that’s a testament to that album; those songs and [producer] Mike Chapman. He very rigidly made us pull things back and just concentrate on the essence of the song rather than being fancy. Mike was really anti-‘ooh, look what I can play! I can play this in 7/12 timing or whatever’. I always fucking hated that stuff. Everyone got a bit too fancy on the second album [Shaved and Dangerous]," she pauses before returning to the debut. "Mike was the taskmaster – ‘Let me hear the hooks’. Like Early Warning - that tag at the beginning ‘too young to know too old to listen’ - Mike said ‘I’m going to take that part of the chorus, let’s put that at the front; that’s the hook."
Recently making the 100 Best Australian Albums of All Time list, Baby Animals was a primal beast of its time, yet still forms the backbone of the band’s powerful live shows. Though the newer songs don’t elicit the same reaction, DeMarchi is happy to celebrate the older material. "It doesn’t bother me," she says breezily. "I’m really proud of all that stuff and it was a really good time. We did a lot of great things; we travelled everywhere and we were really lucky. We had a fledgling label that had a lot of money – they were like ‘take it!’" she laughs, pushing an invisible pile of money. "Just to keep us on the road with Van Halen for six months cost a million dollars in tour support; we couldn’t have done what we did without it…it’s a lot of money," she says slightly in awe of her own adventures. "It always comes back to having a good team around you, I think that’s 70% of being successful."
Seeing the band live, it’s easy to imagine why a label would feel comfortable in spending that much on a foursome of Perth rockers, and it’s live the band still shines. Despite a long break from the stage, DeMarchi is comfortable back in the spotlight. "Sometimes it’s difficult, but there’s no better way to make a connection. There are people there, and they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to be, so you’re starting already ahead of the game. All you want to do is your best for them and to enjoy yourself," she says instructively. "I remember the first time I went on stage and people clapped," she laughs. "I was like ‘they fucking liked it? This is great! I can make money doing this? Not much, but I can make money?’’ She laughs. "I never was good at any other job, and I’m not crazy about the industry – it’s a shit industry, but it’s really a very, very good job."