Probably best known as the bass player from one of the country’s favourite bands of the 80s and early 90s, Noiseworks, Steve Balbi has a lot more strings to his bow than that. His other bands include Universe, The Electric Hippies and Move Trees and currently, he is the lead vocalist for the newly reformed Mi-Sex, while still doing the occasional gig with Noiseworks. Add to that, his work as a songwriter, music producer, solo artist and a series of stage productions, and you can easily see that this is a man with his fingers in many pies. Yet he has somehow found time to emerge from all of that with his latest solo album, Black Rainbow which is due for release in June.
Steve explains how the album came about after his band, Move Trees, went their separate ways. “It was a beautiful band,” he tells me. “We released an EP and we finished recording an album. They were predominantly my songs and I wrote a couple with Scott Aplin. You have to be a bit mental to want to be an original artist because you really only play for the music. You just don’t think about the money. It’s tricky. I’ve always played music because I love it and the money seems to have followed so I had that underlying faith. Let’s just make great music and something will happen but the guys didn’t quite see it like that and so the band split up. There was no animosity. I totally understood where they were coming from. I guess it started from there.”
Black Rainbow has been a work in progress ever since. “The first song I wrote after Move Trees,” he tells me, “was a thing called ‘Love to Dust’, which is basically a break up song. And I just wrote the last song for the album and recorded it only two weeks ago so it has been a slow process. I haven’t been working on it full on. It’s just from time to time and I’m really proud of it. Now my fans don’t have to bug me anymore. I have a record.”
Steve says that his heart lies in storytelling. “I write on an acoustic guitar,” he explains. I’m a ‘blood and guts’ guy but I grew up with textures and big sound so it travels. It has ultimately very delicate moments but it hits out there into textured, big sounds. It’s an interesting sounding record. I think I have found a sound of my own. I guess this record is a little bit of Electric Hippies, a little bit of a band called Universe and there’s Move Trees and there’s just me singing to people around the country, I suppose. I’m putting a single out there, just to give people a taste. It’s a track called ‘Why Did it Take So Long?’ This is the last song I wrote (for the album). I literally wrote it only a couple of weeks ago and I’m very excited about it.”
Searching for one word to describe his own unique genre, Steve calls it ‘fock’ (that’s not a typo, by the way). “That’s folk/rock,” he explains with a laugh.
Steve also does quite a lot of stage productions. He will be appearing in a production of ‘Ziggy’ which opens at the Sydney Opera House in July. Starring alongside the singer, will be Jeff Duff, the flamboyant lead vocalist from 70s jazz/rock fusion band, Kush. “It is a very characterised show,” Steve explains. “There are lots of costume changes. David Bowie has an amazing body of work. It’s a theatrical presentation whereas ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (another CC Entertainment production) is a little bit more of a religious vibe, where people go to hear the Lords of Rock being played by a bunch of Aussie guys that really know what they’re doing. It’s a pretty good show. I’ve been doing it for ten years. They keep asking me back so I’m doing something right. And it’s really good fun. I really love the energy of the show. I love all the people I’m playing with and it’s just really good fun to do those things. It’s a great way to make a living. I put a lot into it. I don’t put a lot into learning the songs,” he laughs, “but I certainly put a lot into giving them to the audience.”
As if he wasn’t busy enough already, Balbi is also the current lead singer of the newly reformed Mi-Sex. The band has some shows coming up in May, at The Basement in Sydney and Lizotte’s in Newcastle. At this stage, these are the only two shows that are confirmed but Steve tells me that there are plans to do more at the end of the year, including a possible tour of New Zealand. “There’s a bit of a Mi-Sex vibe happening over there at the moment,’’ he informs me. Balbi enjoys playing with Mi–Sex. “It allows me to be a bit of an actor and I’ve always wanted to be an actor,” he reveals. “I take the art form very seriously. By doing shows like the Led Zeppelin and Ziggy show or even performing with Mi-Sex for that matter, though it’s not music of my own heart, it’s something I can embrace as a performer and as an actor. I really enjoy it. I kind of got into character for them. When I was playing with Noiseworks, I was in the same clothes but I whacked my hat on and I turned into the Mi-Sex guy. I describe the Mi-Sex guy as a kind of distinguished punk. He’s not sure whether he wants to kick or kiss something. There’s a recklessness to it that I really love and I enjoy that.”
Steve says that he would never really be satisfied with being simply a one dimensional performer, stating that he likes to ‘change it up a bit’. “I always have,” he admits. “Some people get trapped in their own persona but I can go out and be just about whoever I want, which is something I do love. If you look at Electric Hippies and then at Noiseworks, (you’ll see) it was the other end of the spectrum. Black Rainbow, I guess, is a little bit of everything.”
While Steve acknowledges that he is probably best known as the bass player in Noiseworks, he says that he was getting a bit tired of people asking him to play Noiseworks songs. “They just don’t suit me,” he explains. “But I actually stumbled across a new version of ‘Touch’ and I’ve recorded it. It’s on the album. It’s a little bit more of a Nick Cave angle than a Noiseworks angle. It’s very spooky, very haunting. It really gives the song a new spirit and the lyric a new meaning. It’s actually very beautiful and I’m really proud of that so I decided to stick that on the record.” And now, he says, he can finally give the fans what they keep asking for. “When they shout out ‘Play a Noiseworks song,’ I can play that one. That should keep them off my back.”
Steve will be giving us a taste of Black Rainbow with two shows at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th June. See below for full details.
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved.
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Get tickets to Black Rainbow Album Launch now:
THE STUDIO, SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
Sat 15th June, 2013
with special guest Voodoo Sons
Sun 16th June, 2013
with special guest Green Jam featuring Dave Horgan
Tickets on sale now
sydneyoperahouse.com 9250 7777
ticketmaster.com.au 136 100