The Baby Animals are back with their first studio album in twenty years. The aptly titled ‘This Is Not The End’ is currently taking the country by storm and I recently had the opportunity to catch up with guitarist, Dave Leslie, to get the story behind it. “It’s been a long time in the making,” he admits, “But I’m happy with the way all the songs turned out. Everything was put in place to tell the story; the song of kings, so to speak.”
Unlike their previous albums, this one was a totally independent project. As Dave explains: “Twenty years ago, in a previous incarnation, the band was signed to major labels and we had gone through that story. With this one, we had a bunch of songs and we wanted to record. We were talking to some major labels but, frankly, the offers and the deals we were getting presented with weren’t really things that we felt comfortable with.” So they raised the funds to do it on their own. “We paid for this all ourselves,” he tells me. “And we just wanted a label that was basically emotionally attached to the record, the same as we were and these guys, Social Family Records, knew our story and it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
The independent production has allowed the band to have full artistic control over the project. “The decision making process, and the artistic process was way more streamlined doing it this way. With large labels, you’ve got all sorts of people sticking their two cents in about what things should sound like. The tea lady doesn’t like the guitar solo and blah blah blah. This one was basically myself, Suze and the producer so the band and the producer have artistic control over it which is scary but very refreshing as well.”
So you ended up with the record that you wanted? “Given the budget that we had, yes,” he agrees. We could easily have spent another million dollars on it but whether it would make it sound like a million dollars, I don’t know. But I think from the resources that we had, and the time frame and everything like that, I’m really, really happy with it.”
The album itself is a good balance of gritty rock, soft rock ballads and something in between. “It is definitely a mixed bag,” Dave agrees. “I think it’s probably closer to the first Baby Animals album. The first one was a great mixture of rock things and more mysterious and ‘dark’ kind of ballads. That’s kind of what we do. The song will tell us the way it wants to be dressed but sometimes, you can’t make a pop song into a hard rock song. It doesn’t work. If it wants to be a pop song, it’s a pop song and we treat it as such.”
My personal favourite track on the album is ‘Stitch’ so I am delighted to hear that it is going to be the next single. “I’ve always loved that,” Dave says, in agreement. “Suze and I did an album for Liberation Blue a few years back; an acoustic record and ‘Stitch’ was one of the contenders on that one as well but it was obviously a completely different version. It’s a great song. It stands up. We do it quite often acoustically and it works well under both circumstances. I think it’s a remarkably strong song in general. It’s a fantastic sentiment as well. I’m welling up just thinking about it.”
While Dave and Suze wrote all the songs on the album, they also had a hand from former Noiseworks keyboard player, Justin Stanley, who co-wrote ‘Hot Air Balloon’. “He produced the acoustic album that we were talking about,” Dave tells me. “He’s a mate of ours and a fantastic musician in his own right. He’s in L.A. these days. But the majority of it was myself and Suze.”
And with the album finally out there, it’s time to take the show on the road, so to speak. “It’s not exactly the most gruelling tour we’ve ever been put on,” he admits, “But it’s a bit of a showcase to give us a chance to breathe some live air into these album songs. Of course, it will be a mixed bag as well. We’ll play a bunch of our old songs as well. It will just be great to get out and have a hit really.”
In the years that have passed since the last album, things have appeared to be pretty quiet for the band, notwithstanding the occasional gig. I ask Dave what life has been like between gigs. “Suze and I have still been writing,” he explains. “We basically disassembled the band because of legal issues. Suze got married, moved to America and popped out some kids and we had some legal wrangle with our old manager and the band got sort of dismantled, as opposed to burnt out. We just got sort of put up on trucks with the wheels taken off. But Suze and I have always maintained contact. I’d go and spend a few weeks over there and we’d write some tunes and email and send ideas back and forth and things like that so that creative partnership has always been there. I’ve just been playing with other acts and doing other stuff and doing whatever I can do to feed my family.” And that included playing with other artists like Jimmy Barnes, teaching guitar and even doing a few ads for television. “Anything that would pay the bills!” he laughs. “I must admit, I’m blessed to be able to do what I do. It’s awesome to make a living out of playing guitar and there’s not a single day when I don’t feel absolutely completely grateful for it but it does get tough.”
And when he counts those blessings, there are one or two highlights that stand out in his mind. Such as? “When the first album went to number one,” he tells me. “That was pretty cool. On a smaller scale, the first time I ever heard Early Warning on the radio was a blowout for me. I was just driving along, listening to Triple M and then the song came on. It didn’t register for a little while because I’d heard it a couple of thousand times and the song had sunk into my ears. And then I thought ‘Hang on. This is the radio!’ Thatwas a pretty big moment. But obviously having a number one record is a feather in anybody’s cap really. Just the fact that our album made it to number one was pretty cool. We were touring at the time. We were overseas and we didn’t have the opportunity to be here and enjoy it. We were out working. And touring with bands like Van Halen, that was pretty good because they were our heroes and for any guitar player, Eddie Van Halen is a pretty big influence so that was pretty cool. We got to be pretty good mates with those guys. There was a lot of good stuff, that’s for sure.”
And while we are on the subject of musical influences, Dave also counts Jeff Beck and Mick Ronson amongst his greatest influences as guitar players. “I like the English guys,” he admits, “And Francis Rossi was awesome before he started doing the Coles ‘Down Down’ promo. But let’s not go there…” he laughs. Umm… yes… let’s not, I agree but like you say, you’ve got to pay the bills. “I’m sure he’s going to pay a fair few bills with that!” laughs Dave.
“Before the Baby Animals, I was playing in cover bands and just tried to do a couple of original things here and there. It was pretty tough. I was playing in a couple of bands and I’d heard about this girl singer that had come back from London. I went along for a bit of a jam and got the gig.” And obviously, that was the guitarist’s big break but before that, he had also auditioned for Rose Tattoo. “Because I had dyed blonde hair and no tattoos, I didn’t think I was going to get the gig and I was right. But it was great fun anyway. I’ve played with Angry since then a few times actually so at least I did get a chance to do those songs.”
“We are working on releasing more singles, doing some more promotion work on the album and a larger, national tour around October. It’s being locked in at the moment. Obviously, this one is only a little tour so we want to do something a little more substantial. We want to play to as many people as we can and if we get a chance to go overseas again, it would be good. My bag’s already packed. I’m ready to go! We did a lot of work over there but it’s a tough nut to crack, that one.” Hopefully, with this album, the band will have another crack at it.
“Thanks. I hope so. It’s a good bunch of songs. We don’t have any expectations. We’re just happy to have the opportunity to record again and convince ourselves that there’s still life in it. We’ll let it just take us wherever it wants to really.”
The Baby Animals intend to stick around for a while, and keep making more great music, and record more albums, he assures me. “We’re already starting to write the next one now. There are a few ideas and demos bubbling to the surface so we’ll try to make hay while the sun shines.”
This is definitely not the end for the Baby Animals. It’s more like a new beginning.
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved