“Hi, you’ve called Suze. I can’t take your call right now, leave a message and I’ll call you back.”
I sit, bemused, for what feels like a minute but was probably closer to a second and a half before blurting out some kind of garbled callback request.
It’s not that my interview subject hasn’t answered the phone at our designated interview time. That happens All. The. Time. It’s just that the sweet, feminine pre-recorded voice was at complete and utter odds to the throaty, rock-chick growl I expected to hear from Suze De Marchi. I mean, come on man. It’s Suze De Marchi. Lead singer of the Baby Animals. Aussie rock icon. Hot-voiced and coolly-coiffed diva owning the stage in head-to-toe black. How dare she sound so… normal?
As it turns out, this impression was to characterise the remainder of the interview. Rock goddess extraordinaire, loving mother, good Catholic girl (and sometimes not so good). Suze may have be all of these things, but she’s also just really, really nice.
I start by congratulating her on the 25 year anniversary of the Baby Animals’ self-titled debut album and record-breaking single, One Word, released in 1991. I lament the speedy passage of time since then, and Suze agrees.
“I know it doesn’t feel like 25 years… it sorta does sometimes, when you’re tired and you feel it in your bones!”
The last 25 years certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing, either for the Baby Animals or Suze herself. A marriage breakup (with Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt) left her reeling back in the direction of her home country Australia after 16 years in Los Angeles.
Suze appears to be a pragmatist but above all retains a sense of anticipation over preoccupation, an attitude which has clearly sustained her in times of trouble.
“I don’t tend to look back too much,” she asserts.
“I tend to think I get more excited about what’s coming in.”
Label issues and inner-band turmoil had torn the Baby Animals apart by the mid-nineties, making it 2007 before a reformation was possible. Unfortunately, conflicts again sent the members their separate ways, resulting in lineup changes. The current band consists of two original members and is the lineup under which the Baby Animals are touring the 25 year celebration. Suze discusses what she has learned from the whole experience.
“You have to choose to surround yourself with people who understand you and know what your goal is to be able to make that happen with you. It’s not ever done your own.”
And who are those people for her?
“Dave my guitar player. One of my best friends Mary, she’s been my best friend for 28 years. Always a good ear and always good advice. My first manager John Woodruff, super instrumental in the Baby Animals’ beginnings. There are a few people and they know who they are. I’m always grateful.”
Of course, particularly in the case of artists, people who have a negative impact in our lives can often provide inspiration. In the case of One Word, I ask if Suze wrote it about someone who disappeared on her.
She pauses, then barks a short laugh.
“Maaaybe it was about someone?” (It definitely was). She laughs again. I love that even this long afterwards, she won’t say his name, but I can’t help but push a little harder.
“I wrote that when I was living in London and it was… well… people can probably figure it out if they want but I think songs start about someone but then they take on their own life.”
By now adept at interviews, she changes the subject.
“You know it was never my favourite song and it ended up being our biggest single and I never wanted it on the album?” she asks.
“I said ‘This song is not doing it for me. I’m not into it please can we not put it on the album?’
“They’re the moments you thank god for it being on a label and with people who actually know what they’re doing. Which is rare.”
Now residing in Sydney – closer to her home town of Perth but still a decent flight away – Suze has a heartfelt connection with the concept of home, as evidenced by her solo album of the same name. She left her home at the age of 17 and has been basically travelling since. I wonder if she will ever settle anywhere.
“I don’t know,” she answers simply.
“I never feel settled. I don’t ever feel like I’m ever in the right place. I feel at home in Perth but I don’t know if it’s the right place for me to live. I feel at home in Sydney with my kids but I don’t know if it’s where I want to be. I don’t think you should ever give up, that’s wanderlust.”
Perhaps the Baby Animals are home, I wonder?
“Yeah definitely!” she exclaims.
“It is the best thing I’ve ever done musically and we have so much fun and I feel like we really achieved what we set out to achieve and more, and I never expected to the band to do as well as it did.
“My motive is to do a job that I enjoy doing and be creative and if it resonates with people, great.
“I really like the idea of getting older – you can’t tell me when I can stop doing it. That’s a really empowering thing to do now in my career and there are not an awful lot of people who can continue to do it so I feel lucky and grateful.
“I’ve got more of an attitude about the strength to be able continue doing what I’m doing as an older woman rather than just being a young deer in the headlights. I’m a lot more aware of how lucky I am.”
Catch the Baby Animals at Twin Towns on Saturday 18 March.
IMAGE (c) Joe Moreno Photography