In the lead up to talking to Suze DeMarchi, I hurriedly scoured the net searching for archive interviews with the Baby Animals singer looking for an indicator of what I was expecting to be a ‘difficult’ discussion. While preparing for the worst, it occurred to me I had absolutely no founding for this preconception. Did the direct and confident delivery in her singing voice somehow translate to me as aggression? Its true Baby Animals had that fuck ‘em if they don’t like it attitude with Suze as our very own Joan Jett who didn’t need to remind us how much she loved rock n’ roll. The feisty singer of such hits as Rush You, Ain’t Gonna Get My Love and Lights Out at Eleven immediately dissolves my irrational fear over the phone from Perth where she’s visiting family, “You’re my first interview today, so I’m not completely jaded yet!” She begins with a big laugh.
“I’m so excited about these symphony shows, this is definitely going to be one of those ‘I’m so glad I said yes’ moments.” Suze jumps right in before I even bring up the four planned shows where Baby Animals along with Diesel and Divinyls will be multi-headlining a rock and symphony extravaganza much like Kiss and Metallica before them. “I’m even gonna wear a tux n’ tie for the occasion!” DeMarchi enthuses. The project, set to take place in January, is in the capable hands of musical director Tim Count. His work includes TV and film scores as well as tickling the ivories for The Angels and Angry Anderson. It was noted events organiser John Zaccaria, however who called Suze out of the blue asking for her band’s involvement. “He called like, five or six times before I was sure I wanted to do it.” She tells me, sounding a little amused, “What convinced me was for one is Chrissy Amphlett (Divinyls) is on board and she’s just… wow! Plus Diesel and I go way back; I’ve known him since I was 17.” She continues, “Secondly, in the beginning this whole thing was going to be a one-day-only concert on Rottnest Island. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to ‘Rotti’ but it’s just one big party.” Rottnest presented a few strategy problems, so instead a short tour was announced. “Well because of how the place is laid out it basically would’ve been impossible to sell tickets.” Suze explains, “There was just nowhere to set up a stage area that could be fenced off and made into an arena separate from where everyone goes to drink and party.” Taking the show on the road has resulted in one or two small problems. Despite the extra performances, there’s still only two days are scheduled for rehearsal. “That does make me a little nervous,” Suze laughs, “We have to get in there and nail it and make totally sure that everyone is on the same page. That should be interesting!”
When choosing songs to be accompanied by the orchestra, Suze made a list with a ‘no changes option’ which will be handed to Tim Count, but was it a simply a task of deciding what would and wouldn’t work? “Well basically, there’s no reason why any of the songs wouldn’t work.” She states “A song like Painless backed with strings I think is going to be exciting, and even Early Warning which is a fairly standard rock song, I can hear a lot of potential for that too. The list I made came more from the songs I wanted to hear in a completely new way.” Suze confesses she’s in total awe of orchestra people; “When I lived in England I worked at a theatre making sandwiches for the London Symphony and I would see people coming in all day to record various things with them, I remember Billy Connelly even did a session one day, and the band would just walk in and sit down with the sheet music – no warming up – and off they’d go. After it was all over, they would just sit around laughing and chatting until the next person came in the use their services.” This story makes me think of a pair of shoes left by the door waiting for a foot to go in them and take them on an adventure. “It’s just that these musicians were so disciplined.” Suze continues, “If they were bored it didn’t show, but it did make me realise how much patience I was lacking.”
With all the discussion of the orchestral arrangements, I’m reminded of the contrast between Baby Animals debut self-titled album (1991) - which followed a fairly tried and true rock formula - and the second album, Shaved & Dangerous (1993) which took a huge leap forward in terms of consciously avoiding any traditional rock song structure. Suze admits now that perhaps things got a little over ambitious during the writing of their sophomore album. “I don’t know if I would call the second album a leap forward, probably more a trying-to-hard-to-be-clever experiment.” She reflects, “It wasn’t fun for me to make as a writer, because the guys were competing to make all these deconstructed arrangements and ignoring time signatures, all that sort of thing and it was really hard for me to write lyrics that fitted.” These less traditional arrangements must be an exciting prospect for a symphony orchestra; “I hope so, I mean they don’t really get to perform with rock bands very often just like we don’t get to play with orchestras, so hopefully we’ll all get something interesting out of the experience.”
Being back in Australia for family and business matters has reinforced Suze’s seemingly long held desire to get away from the wacky world of Los Angeles; “I’ve served my time in LA, man so that’s why I’m planning on dragging my husband back to Australia.” Suze moved to the US over ten years ago to be with her husband Nuno Bettencourt of the recently re-formed, Extreme. “My plan is to get him to move to Sydney first, let him get used to that!” She laughs, “Then eventually over to Perth so we can be near my family. He doesn’t know yet though!” DeMarchi admits the bond to her birthplace has only strengthened during her time in the US. “I think about my daughter, whose 13, growing up in LA and how she’s really bought into the whole instant fame thing and it’s really despairing. She wants to be an actor but she doesn’t seem aware of what work is even involved with doing that.” It’s clear that Suze is concerned for her daughter and looks to her former home as a salvation from her vapid adopted town. “There are a lot of good things about LA, but there’s also the endless stream of Paris Hilton clones and yeah, I just don’t want my daughter to end up like that. I want her to appreciate things and work for what she wants.”
With the cut throat world of instant fame in mind, Suze reveals how close she came to being the next singer of INXS before they decided instead to pick a reality show winner - the recently dismissed JD Fortune. “I was pretty disgusted by that whole thing,” Suze confides, “I was like, well I don't want to compete because if I lose, I'm just gonna look ridiculous." She claims, "Anyway, the producers of that show actually told me they would rig it for me to win if I agreed to all these terms and conditions, so that was it for me, I refused and so I was out." Suze continues, “I feel so bad for Andrew though, he and Michael (Hutchence) were so close from the very start and always wrote together, so when Michael died Andrew lost his bro. We’re talking a great musical partnership that was equal parts Andrew and Michael, and sadly Andrew just hasn’t been able to find anyone who he has that spark with since.”
After the INXS fiasco, Suze, far from defeated by the experience, finally began writing the next Baby Animals record. Il Grande Silenzio was released in 2008, 15 years after their previous effort (equaling the wait for Chinese Democracy) but most importantly, time had been good to the relationships between the four original band members: “We didn’t really grow apart or anything.” Suze explains, “We used to meet up every couple of years or whenever we were all in the same place and there would always be talk about doing something again but because we all had kids, we knew it would have to just wait. It was really only a matter of time, though.” Despite the years off - with the exception of a solo release in 1999 – DeMarchi assures me she never lost her urge to rock. “Oh, I always kept that dream in the back of my mind. I’ve always said since I was a teenager playing in pub bands around Perth, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life and that has never changed.”
Link to Baby Animals performing "Painless" at the Rock Symphony show in Melbourne: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78G6WFZ1tps