INTERVIEW – STEVE BALBI
By Shane Pinnegar
Now performing in the excellent WHOLE LOTTA LOVE – LED ZEPPELIN CELEBRATION, Steve Balbi has an impressive CV from his early days touring with the Kevin Borich Express, to being a founder member of Noiseworks and his Nineties outfit with Noiseworks alumni Justin Stanley, The Electric Hippies. Just don’t believe the Wikipedia claim that he was a member of Rose Tattoo!
The quintessential Electric Hippy himself, he is legitimately out there – a wild haired wild man who sounds comfortable in his sober skin nowadays, but also comfortable in the knowledge that there was little he didn’t do in his crazier days, not to mention still bounding around a stage like he'd hoovered half of Columbia backstage.
I caught up with Steve to talk about the WHOLE LOTTA LOVE tour, and we ended up talking through a lot of his career over an illuminating and entertaining half hour…
SP: G’day mate, it’s Shane from The Rockpit, how you doing?
Steve Balbi: I’m good Shane, I’m well mate.
SP: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us mate.
Steve Balbi: Oh that’s no probs.
SP: So, last years ‘Whole Lotta Love’ show was just magic really for any fan of Led Zeppelin - has anything changed for this year’s tour?
Steve Balbi: Ohh, just a line up change I guess, we’ve got Jeff Martin from The Tea Party this year added to the bill, I think it sounds pretty much the same – there’s a couple of different songs, you know, I’ve got a few different things planned, you know, minor things overall, you know, probably bigger and better.
SP: Cool. Well Jeff’s always had a very strong connection with Led Zeppelin I guess you’d say, through his work in The Tea Party, it seems a very inspired edition to the line up. How have rehearsals been sounding?
Steve Balbi: Oh look we haven’t had any rehearsals yet, but I know Jeff’s work and you know he’s the real deal, a great rock player amongst other things. He was asked at first to just do a few songs but he wanted to play guitar so yeah quite exciting really.
SP: Yeah absolutely, and Led Zeppelin themselves - they’re one of those bands that have a universal appeal and touch so many people in very different and personal ways. What do they mean to you?
Steve Balbi: Oh you know, I guess you are what you eat, and they hit me like a ton of bricks when I was a kid and it opened my world up and still to this day, you know, I always do the Bonzo [John Bonham] technique around the drumkit and only started learning playing drums [because of them]. If you want to play rock, let me show you how – I’ll put on Led Zeppelin 4 and [show you]!
SP: (laughs) That’s a classic
Steve Balbi: Yeah, I mean it’s the greatest rock beat ever you know
SP: Of course, yeah. I think a large part of why the whole show works is that it isn’t just a group of hard rock musos or anything like that, it’s a really diverse line up. So does that pose any stylistical hiccups or is there extra work in the rehearsals to get everyone on the same page?
Steve Balbi: You would be surprised at how easily the whole thing runs, you know I have been doing the show for quite some time now- I’m pretty well oiled, however I never even know how I’m going to do so I’m allowed to sort of… I’m the kind of unpredictable one I guess really, but everybody knows their stuff, they come in, they take it really seriously, you know we really do want it to be a great show, it’s not a tribute show it’s different to that you know.
SP: Mmm. I mean you talk about taking it seriously and everything but it did look like everyone was having a lot of fun last year.
Steve Balbi: Oh well, yeah, I guess that’s where to me I don’t do things personally if I don’t enjoy it, and I think that, you know, none of the artists you’ll be seeing will be kind of eighteen they will all be twenty five plus so you know there’s been a lot of experience and we’re professional and we can afford the leisure of you know, the friendship part of it. I’ve been working with the same bunch of people for almost nine years so its sounds very corny but it is a family…
SP: Cool. When I interviewed Joe [Calderazzo, guitarist and musical director of the show] last year he said the show had a floating pool of songs to draw on, can you give us any hints on what might be on the set list this year?
Steve Balbi: Yeah, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, ‘Let It Be’, ‘Hard Days Night’, oh no, that’s the other show.
Steve Balbi: You know ‘Kashmir’, ‘Black Dog’, you know ‘Moby Dick’, you know, I don’t think anyone will leave thinking ‘Ah man they should have played that one’.
SP: (laughs) Yeah right. Interestingly while I was researching this interview, according to Wikipedia you were briefly a member of Rose Tattoo.
Steve Balbi: I know, how’s that?
SP: Yeah, but I’m pretty sure it was Kevin Borich Express wasn’t it?
Steve Balbi: Well this is… I always read that but I wonder how that come there, I remember playing with Kevin Borich and the Rose Tatt’s were looking for a bass player and I was asked to play.
Steve Balbi: And I went there, I had a jam and it was all cool but it didn’t eventuate and I can’t remember for what reasons, and I think I was just sort of like, I think I would have been about eighteen and I think Angry [Anderson] is a beautiful, beautiful man but, so yeah look I just can’t remember - it was obviously a thought for a fleeting moment in everybody’s mind but I don’t know how it got in the media.
SP: Never trust everything you read hey?
Steve Balbi: Oh absolutely and apparently I sang all Ewan McGregor’s vocals.
Steve Balbi: According to Wikipedia - in Moulin Rouge. The truth to that story is I actually did do all the vocals for Moulin Rouge in the initial stages of filming and then Ewan did all his parts again. I did do a lot of the other vocals on it, a lot of stuff on it but Ewan actually can sing and he did do his parts so it wasn’t me!
SP: Yeah right (laughs)
Steve Balbi: They were right about the Noiseworks and the Electric Hippies and all that.
SP: I’ve found some really interesting stuff over the years on Wikipedia when researching interviews and you just scratch your head and go ‘Well I know that’s not true’.
Steve Balbi: Yeah.
SP: When you did join Kevin Borich Express you were pretty green, jumping into a legend’s band like that, starting to do a proper tour and all that sort of thing. How was the experience of all that?
Steve Balbi: Oh I couldn’t believe it, you know - plucked out of this band that you know, I remember getting this phone call from Kevin Borich, I was actually in my Mum’s kitchen talking to Kevin Borich and I hung up the phone and said “Mum Kevin Borich wants me to join the band”! To tell you the truth you know, jumping in your car with the bass, I knew they were true blues man, you know, he’s the real deal, he’s taught me the most important thing about music and you know, how to drink whiskey and smoke dope while driving at 140 k’s (laughs)
SP: (laughs) Right on.
Steve Balbi: That was, those days are long gone, I don’t [do that stuff] anymore, but yeah, he is passion, he is absolute passion, he taught me what the main thing was about everything and every moment, you know, play like every show is gonna be your last and I have done that ever since and I really owe him.
SP: On your website you’ve described the direction of the solo album you’re recording would be what you call ‘Peace And Dirt’, can you expand on that one for us?
Steve Balbi: Yeah, well you know, that’s, I guess that it’s just really amazing music you know. I’ve managed to survive moments that I should have possibly you know, fatally crashed on and I’ve come up and I’ve driven up the mountain and it’s just so beautiful and so peaceful and that’s all I need. I can’t believe in always being happy, you know, you need to be able to balance it out with the dirt and with the reality and I’ve had the honour of being able to experience both sides of the coin and I feel that I’m just in such a beautiful place, you know? I’ve got an amazing, I guess you call it work, I go out and make music in all kinds of capacities, as a producer, as a singer as a song writer, you know. It’s pretty and I owe it all and I owe what I got in, like, when I wake up in the morning is to the, you know, the dirt and the peace, you know.
Steve Balbi: That’s what I have now, that’s why I have it.
SP: So how’s the album coming along? When can we expect to hear it?
Steve Balbi: It’s really beautiful you know, and I’m so pleased with it and there is so much, making my record would cost me a fair bit of money and I’ve got three children, and there is so many projects that I’m working on, so I hope to have it ready by the end of the year, but more so in between that I’m about to start taking Noiseworks into the studio to produce some new records, with Noiseworks as well we are starting in a couple of weeks time so there is a lot going on with Noiseworks but my record, it will be ready when it’s ready, but I’m hoping to put it out early next year.
SP: I guess that’s the advantage of being an independent artist isn’t it now days?
Steve Balbi: Well it is you know and I got my own studio and I know how to do it myself and it is pretty nice place to be in however I wouldn’t mind four hundred grand for TV advertising (laughs).
SP: (laughs) Yeah, we manage a band over here mate, everyone would like a big old 1985 record company hand out, but I don’t think it exists anymore does it?
Steve Balbi: I think, you know, sometimes you question how great it is to own 100% of nothing, you know?
Steve Balbi: And you know, sometimes I think bring back the majors - lets just do the deal a little bit better… but those days are gone so it is exciting in another way, it’s kind of the dirt part of it again you know?
Steve Balbi: Catching the dirt, it’s kind of cool.
SP: I didn’t realise Noiseworks were going to be recording again, that’s a bit exciting.
Steve Balbi: There you go. I tell you what, it kicks off initially with Justin Stanley and Noiseworks, we got together a couple of tunes, I put both songs together, I put it to the boys because we did wanna do it because we’ve just had such a great time together, recent times touring and we put a bunch of songs together and just went ‘Let’s do it’ so we did pre-production a few weeks ago and just gonna head in and it’s kind of like The Beatles and The Foo Fighters had a love child.
SP: Ah interesting, cool well we’ll look forward to that one as well.
Steve Balbi: Yeah it’s pretty cool.
SP: And you’ve got so many different and diverse projects going on all the time, I mean you’ve got a Ziggy Stardust show coming up in October and so on.
Steve Balbi: Yeah.
SP: How does having all these different styles to sing in affect your own song writing and singing?
Steve Balbi: It doesn’t really cross over. I’ve got this sort of like strange personality where there is the theatrical part of me - I mean I grew up on David Bowie as well as Led Zeppelin and I equally love both. I think in another life I want to be an actor.
Steve Balbi: And I think that the Bowie show allows me to act and really entertain, however having said that I just really understand the music in my blood and the artistry of it, I just love it so much. I think it’s a little bit of that too, so it doesn’t really affect me at all because my music comes from my soul and my soul is just so kind of… it’s just mine, as yours is yours, and it just sort of comes out being me you know? I guess we all have influences for sure, but I just put on a costume and I just go ‘Ok I’m this guy’. I think it’s the actor part of me that allows me to do all of these diverse things. Like, I kind of put this character together, it’s kind of like a sophisticated punk and I can do my own show the next night and it’ll be so different.
SP: So compartmentalised I guess?
Steve Balbi: I guess yeah, yeah.
SP: Cool, it sounds like you’re in a good place man, it’s good to hear.
Steve Balbi: I am Shane.
SP: A lot of good stuff going on.
Steve Balbi: I trust you are too man.
SP: Yup, we are actually, recently married, beautiful daughter, it’s all good you know.
Steve Balbi: Oh, good stuff mate.
SP: Ah, so we are outta time, I got one more for ya if that’s cool?
Steve Balbi: Yeah, go ahead.
SP: What for you Steve is that meaning of life? Just a little easy one to finish up.
Steve Balbi: Meaning of life is I guess – to tell the truth, how would I know? What I find is the best way to get through, is just to do the next right thing.
SP: Sounds good. Awesome man, well were looking forward to the show when it hits Perth and yeah, good luck with all the other projects.
Steve Balbi: Thank you Shane, take care mate.
SP: Cheers man, thanks for your time.
Steve Balbi: Bye.
Thanks to Reckoning Media for hooking us up with Steve, and Rachel Haniford for another great transcribing job