DL: Yeah, it’s been 20 years since our last rock record! We are really excited to have the opportunity to get back into the studio. We did this recording under our own steam, paid for it ourselves, which was scary, as we have never had this much artistic control, but refreshing, as we didn’t have to deal with stuff like, “The A&R guy’s tea-lady has a problem with the kick-drum sound”.
We are signed to a fantastic independent label, Social Family Records who like us, are emotionally attached to the project so we feel blessed to be in this situation.
The record is a mixed bag of styles and influences. As with the previous two, there are straight-ahead rock songs, power-pop tunes, love songs and dark, brooding ballads. Something for the whole family!
I remember seeing you guys as a support to The Angels at Selinas back in the day – they had decided to “foster” a couple of young bands as support acts– without trying to be cruel, you guys absolutely killed the other bands, and gave The Angels a run for their money! Do you remember that, and if so, did you envision this band going so far?
DL: Haha! I remember that tour well! The Angels were riding high and touring in support of the “Dogs Are Talking” single, which included a demo song from ourselves, The Hurricanes and The Desert Cats on the B-side, and took the whole circus around the country. A gallant and expensive gesture, I must say. A rock ‘n’ roll dream come true! We three support acts shared the same Hi-Ace van which was appropriately named the ‘Ugly Bus’ (and boy, some ugly shit went on in there…)
I do remember that we had to pull out all the stops on that tour. Playing to Angels fans, you have to hit ‘em hard. You can’t afford to be uncertain or loose in front of a crowd like that, they’ll crucify you. It definitely rubbed off and we got tighter and tougher as a result.
At the time we were just enjoying the ride. Touring with a huge rock band, writing and recording songs. We all aspired to be in a successful band but we weren’t thinking at the time that it would turn out to be as busy as it got.
You’ve played with some very high profile bands. Does anyone stand out in your memory as being particularly memorable? Did they prove inspirational and/or helpful to The Baby Animals?
DL: We did supports to groups as diverse as the Buzzcocks , Spencer Davis Group, Jimmy Barnes, the Hoodoos and the Hunters, thru to touring with Bryan Adams, Robert Plant and Van Halen. Each and every one of them influenced the way we played, and still do, to some degree. As I mentioned earlier, some of the crowds we played to were very unforgiving so you had to stand your ground.
The F.U.C.K. tour (we played 60+ shows) through the U.S. with Van Halen, was probably the most memorable. We got a chance to experience what it’s like touring on that level. 10 semi’s and eight tour buses, it felt like a moving city AND we got to see VH play every night!!
In a world and a time when every guitar player in Australia seemed to be totally in love with Stevie Ray Vaughan (and there’s nothing at all wrong with that!), you sort of appeared out of, well, nowhere with a, still obviously blues-based style, yet sounding quite different to anyone else I could think of. Do you feel this way? How do you manage to come up with ideas that are still within a genre, yet different to what anyone else seems to do?
DL. Umm, that’s a really interesting observation. I agree with you that SRV was an awesome player but influence-wise, I think I got more of my stuff from the old-school British players. Mick Ronson, Jimmy Page, Francis Rossi, Pete Townshend, Toni Iommi, early Jeff Back (“Truth” album is my desert island disk…). Also Leslie West, (American, I know…) his tone and chops on that Mountain stuff still floors me. Blues-based, but each had their own voice. It wasn’t a conscious thing to sound different to what others were doing at the time but I’m glad it turned out that way! I always regarded my job as more of a rhythm player, anyway. Riffs and rhythm parts make up the bulk of my gig.
The group has always appeared to have a pretty “democratic” kind of vibe – all fantastic players who shine within their own right, and get to do so, however the overall impression is very much the sound of “a group”, rather than that of the individual players (given the pretty amazing presence of Suze DeMarchi). Is this a conscious effort on the part of the band, or just something that seems to come naturally to you guys?
DL: I think it just comes naturally. The motto was/is that it is always better to have a ‘star team’ than a ‘team of stars’. We are all influenced by the great rock groups, and I am one lucky guitar player to be in one with someone as extraordinarily talented as Suze. 20+ years on, her voice still gives me chills… (in a good way! And Suze’s guitar playing is improving outta sight now that it has been given a much more important role in the band. She cranks that Tele live!
The new rhythm section consisting of Mick Skelton on drums and Dario Bortolin on bass has made the band feel greater than the sum of it’s parts and when it’s on fire, it’s about the best feeling you can have… ever.
The way they have interpreted the old material and their own parts on the new recordings, take me to another place when I play with them. Sometimes during sound-check, I’m reluctant to check guitars, I would rather just listen to those cats jam…
While The Baby Animals have been around for quite a long time, you seem to sort of disappear for fairly extended periods. Is this just my imagination living here in Sydney? What do you do between Baby Animals gigs – I can’t really imagine you sitting at home crocheting teapot doilies or breeding tropical fish, so, what does Dave Leslie do in the downtime between Baby Animals gigs?
DL: Life is pretty busy in general bringing up 3 sons, so a lot of housework and cooking gets done between BAs gigs.
I played with Jimmy Barnes and Richard Clapton when Suze was in the ‘States. Have done lots of session work playing on people’s albums, TV advertisements and the like. The rest of the time was spent starving and praying!
I have never taken for granted doing what I love but it can get tough out there, that’s for sure. Is there any money to be made in teapot doilies?
First time I ever saw you I think you were playing a red bitser Strat. I am guessing you may have moved on from there a bit. What sort of equipment makes up your current rig, and why/how have you reached this setup?
DL: That red ‘bitser’is a ’64 L-series! I won’t tell it you called it a bitser, it would be awfully upset! It only comes out for special occasions these days.
My current rig (when I have the opportunity use my own stuff.) is a three amp set up consisting of Reynolds, MI Audio and Amwatts amps driving 1 x 12 or 2 x12 boxes. This set up allows for a lot of depth and variation without having to be too loud onstage. Delays and other juicy stuff are handled by a TC Nova System, which sounds quite organic to my ‘cloth’ ears. All other juice is handled by MI Audio pedals. The new record has a few more ‘ambient’ colours in it so I’ve recently acquired a line6 M9 to handle that stuff live. It definitely brings another dimension to the mix. The rig still sounds like a rock guitar though. I would never let that stuff get in the way of a guitar sound! I’d love to have the simplicity of just plugging a guitar straight into an amp, but why paint with just one colour, right?
Guitar wise, I have 2 Grubisa Merlins which are my main axes. They have slightly different sounds so they both shine in different applications however, I could easily use either one for a whole night. Other guitars that come out to play include 2 of Pete Crossley’s gorgeous creations, a Talyor Classic solidbody and LP Jnr and Tele copies made by Frank Grubisa, which are just awesome guitars!
The Music Man EVH given to me by Eddie and the Washburn N4 stay indoors these days..
You seem to be yet another convert to Frank Grubisa’s guitars. Would you like to share with our readers how you made the connection with the guy who seems to be emerging as THE Australian boutique solid body guitar maker, and why, given that you must be able to pretty much choose whatever guitar you want, that you have ended up frequently sporting a Grubisa guitar?
DL: I’ve known Frank for ages. I used to live not too far from him and used to hang out and chat about guitars and stuff. One day our conversation turned to his original designs and a month or so later, I had Merlin #001 in my hot little hands and they have never let go of it. (Except for the time when some low-life stole it from the gear van. I got it back 3 days later). It has acquired some mojo and sounds better every year. It’s approaching its 20th birthday soon. Methinks a nice re-fret would be a fitting gift.
It’s a versatile guitar, it feels great to play, Frank’s work is immaculate. I cannot recommend his guitars highly enough. Loaded with Brierley pickups, #001 is my favourite axe. I’m just a sucker for Aussie gear in general. To be able to liaise with the people who make the stuff and have it tweaked to suit your ears is an ideal situation. I feel extremely fortunate to use quality equipment made by people who really care. Frank, Pete Reynolds, Michael Ibrahim, Mick Brierley, Mark Watson, Peter Clinch, Pete Crossley all deserve a mention as they have all played a huge part in my ‘tonal’ development.
As a guy who is now a highly respected, and very successful Australian musician, what words of advice can you offer to someone seriously determined to become a professional and/or successful musician?
DL: Phew, thank you for the kind words. I guess the most important pieces of advice I could give anyone is:
- Do it because you love it. Fame/Fortune is a by-product of hard work.
- Don’t judge success in monetary terms.
- Learn the basics. No-one is interested if you can play a shredder solo but can’t play rhythm. The chicks at school might be, but they don’t give you gigs.
- You don’t have to be the best guitarist, just be the best at what YOU do.
- Prepare to make it your life’s work.
- Never take it for granted. I made the mistake of thinking that the Baby Animals wave was going to last forever and regret not having made wiser choices at the time. Now I’m grateful and I love every minute of it.