The Man Behind the Animal
Undeniably successful, BABY ANIMALS‘ DAVE LESLIE has toured with the likes of Van Halen and performed in countless cities all over the world. Yet sitting across from LOUIE SMITH is a single father of three, who at times struggles to make ends meet. From partying with rock gods to hanging out the washing, Leslie divulges the not so glam life of being a musician.
The Baby Animals were in the prime of their career in the early ’90s, experiencing relatively quick success. Leslie talks about touring with Jimmy Barnes where the crowds were brutal to support acts compared to touring with rock royalty, Van Halen. “It [the Van Halen tour] was like a moving city, 10 semi-trailers worth of equipment and eight tour buses,” Leslie recalls, glowing. “We definitely got a taste of what it was like to be in a band on that level.”
In more ways than one, Leslie was deeply immersed in the rock star existence and that of course included partying. Dancing on tables and bringing down band room ceilings is just one occurrence of the wild scene back stage. “I lost my balance and brought the entire ceiling down of this room! It went dark [and] the room was packed because it was Ed’s [Eddie Van Halen] birthday,” Leslie says in hysterics. “People were screaming and there was dust and sparks everywhere.”
During this time Leslie visited Frank Zappa’s house, where he had the honour of playing the famous Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster that was set on fire by Hendrix in the ’60s. This was such a defining moment for Leslie that he admits to actually licking the guitar. He laughs at the outlandish gesture, however I’m sure many guitarists would be green with envy.
Unfortunately the Baby Animals run didn’t last as long as they’d hoped. “It was all destined to get over the line, [but] we didn’t quite get over,” Leslie utters, blaming the rise of grunge. They also suffered extensive legal battles with their manager, which in turn triggered the demise of the Baby Animals. “We were touring to pay lawyers, which is really good for morale as you can imagine,” Leslie discloses poignantly.
Getting a little too fervent about the subject, Leslie accidentally knocks his whole coffee all over himself. Laughing and embarrassed, he quickly rushes home to change his coffee drenched pants. He attempts coffee number two, limiting his hand motions this time around as we pick up where we left off. “It [Baby Animals] didn’t really break up, it just got put on the blocks and the wheels taken off really.” But as Leslie expresses, “It’s like a distant memory now”.
Prior to the Baby Animals, Leslie had experienced the hardships of chasing a music career and “living off tomato sauce sandwiches”, but the fall from fame would prove to be a much harder transition. “When you’re young you just think, oh this is going to be great, I’m invincible, you know,” Leslie explains. His grand expectations led him to make some “not so wise choices” in planning for the future, as he “regrets not having a backup plan”.
Leslie wishes he had listened to his mother’s advice, chuckling over the implication that mum always knows best. “My mum used to say, well why don’t you be an architect who plays guitar,” he quips. The idiom of being a struggling musician is a harsh reality for Leslie, as finding stable work is near impossible. “Sometimes I lose sleep over it, but other times I just trust that the universe will provide.”
Although at times it’s been tough, Leslie’s still gained success as a freelance guitarist, touring with Jimmy Barnes for eight years and working on various albums such as Grinspoon’s New Detention and numerous Australian Idol productions. He also obtained work composing jingles for ads which was short lived due to the company’s constant change in preference. “They’re [ad jobs] so hard to get because they are so lucrative, and you’ll find that you’ll be one company’s favourite guy for a year or so and then they’ll jump to another favourite guy,” Leslie exclaims.
Keeping him on his toes, his three teenage sons take up most of Leslie’s time when he isn’t out earning his keep. Juggling both lifestyles has been extremely difficult for Leslie due to the circumstances of his career. “It is pretty hard to balance family life and rock ‘n’ roll life for a few different reasons,” he stresses. “One, because you’re away from home so often and the inconsistency of income.” They aren’t a “normal” family, as Leslie expresses regretfully. Admitting that his career has at times caused the family to suffer, “I think they [the children] resent it [his music career] a little bit because it does take me away from home a lot,” Leslie declares in a sombre tone.
Leslie has faced some appallingly lean times but his down to earth nature has never escaped him. Commendably, he’s stuck to his guns and soldiered through the good and the bad, a quality many successful musicians hold. “It hasn’t been easy, definitely not easy but when it’s good, it’s REALLY good,” Leslie passionately illustrates.
Twenty years later and the Baby Animals have rekindled, releasing a new album called This Is Not The End. Leslie emphasises how extremely blessed he is to be recording again especially under his own steam.
Baby Animals perform at The Entrance Leagues on Thursday, June 20, 2013.