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Baby Animals’ Suze DeMarchi on Surprise Success, Surviving Rowdy Shows

Singer-guitarist rocketed to fame in the early nineties, but not before she’d fought her way through a tour with the Angels.

After slogging it out in the pubs of Perth with her first band, Photoplay, and a stint in London in the Eighties as an aspiring solo pop star, when fame finally came for Suze DeMarchi it did so quickly – within two years of forming in 1989, the Baby Animals had a Number One album with their self-titled debut. This month the band embark on a tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of the single “One Word”, a song DeMarchi wasn’t initially a fan of.

“[The demo] was a bad country song,” she chuckles, sitting in the Rolling Stone offices. “It really came into its own when we were doing pre-production in New York. But I still didn’t love it.” And now? “It’s such a crowd pleaser. It’s always a good feeling.”

Given you weren’t a big fan of “One Word”, were you surprised when it was a hit?
I was surprised with everything. When everything was going on then I was like, this is mad. All of it was crazy.

As your debut LP was on its way to selling eight times platinum and you were touring with Van Halen and Bryan Adams, was there part of you that thought, we’re invincible?
I didn’t think I was invincible. I thought it was a bit bigger than I was comfortable with. It’s not so much the success of it, it’s just the amount of time it consumes, ’cause everyone wants you to play somewhere or they want you to do something. Which is great, but at some point you’ve got to tell people around you, “I can’t do that.” I didn’t realise at that age when something is successful how exhausting it is, and it does take a bit of a toll.

If you could give the Suze of that period any advice, what would you say?
I would just say, take your time a bit. Put your foot down. Believe in yourself enough to know you have got more control than you think you have, and you can manage it a bit better than you think you can.

Is there one thing in particular you’d have done differently?
The second album [1993’s Shaved and Dangerous], I would have taken a bit more time before we went in to do that. It was too much too soon. And also, my mind was elsewhere. I’d just met Nuno [Bettencourt, whom she married in the mid-Nineties], we were in the Bahamas [recording], spending all this money. I just wanted to stop and spend time writing, live my life a little bit.

Describe the feeling in the room during the first Baby Animals rehearsal.
I remember it being fireworks. I just remember being super happy, really optimistic and really excited. And it was really fun. We just laughed the whole day.

The Angels gave you a break when they took the band on tour before your album came out. That must have been a trial by fire…
Fucking intense. But you learn so much from those shows ’cause you have to kick everyone’s arse, you have to play to an Angels crowd, which in those days was a bit heavy.

Does any crowd still stick in your memory?
Revesby Workers. They used to have chicken wire [in front of the stage]. Did we need it? Yeah. There were some things thrown. [Laughs] But I always held my own, I’d always call people out if they did that. We just shoved it in their face with music.

In the time between your first album and Shaved, grunge and the alternative revolution hit. Did that cause any creative turmoil?
Everyone started wearing shorts. [Laughs] A little bit. How do we keep up with this? I was a huge Pixies fan, I always liked dirty guitars. I liked mistakes, [but the] guys were different, everything had to be precise, and I’d always fight against that. So when grunge happened, we were too polished.

Do you remember the first album you bought with your own money?
It was a single: “Hurricane”, Bob Dylan. I was probably 13. The song was so long you had to flip it over halfway through. I still know every lyric to that song.

You’ve said being in Photoplay taught you everything you needed to know about being in a band. What was the most important lesson?
The show must go on. You don’t ever let people down. You show up. You show up at rehearsals. You make it a priority. And I’ve always felt that. I hate blowing shows out. It’s a big deal.

Photoplay did a tour with INXS around the time they released Shabooh Shoobah. What do you recall?
I remember everyone piling into a hotel room after the show just getting wasted. Just having a laugh. And going, “Oh wow, you guys are doing really well!” [Laughs]

Were it not for INXS doing the reality show to find a replacement for Michael Hutchence, for a while there it looked like you might end up fronting the band. Do you ever wonder, what if?
No. I just don’t think anyone could take Michael’s shoes. I love the band, they’re great players, and they’re musicians, they should be able to keep playing as long as they want. But Michael was such an integral part of that group.

Last year you marked the 25th anniversary of the Baby Animals’ debut album by playing it in full with the original line-up. In the past there had been some acrimony around your split with the rhythm section, Eddie Parise and Frank Celenza. Did those shows help heal old wounds?
Yeah, it was really good for us. It was on from the day we went into the rehearsal room in Perth, big smiles, it was all great, everything was water under the bridge. If we were going to do that first album it needed to be with those guys. We’re all still alive and they played on it and we have a massive history with them and I think we couldn’t have done it any other way.

From issue #784 (March 2017), available now, and part of Rolling Stone Australia’s Living Legend series. Main photograph: Joshua Morris.