The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world









Steve: Hey Mark


Mark: Hi Steve thanks for taking the time to talk to the Rockpit this morning


Steve: No worries


Mark: The new album ‘Black Rainbows’ is out now (released 13 September) – as the first track asks – Why did it take so long to get a solo album out?


Steve: Yeah, you know I’ve always considered myself a band guy and you can conjure up many excuses and explanations about why it took so long but I guess at the end of the day it’s fear based – fear of success or fear of failing. But when you’re in a band you can share the success and share the blame and realistically that’s the truth of it. But eventually there’s nothing to lose and I found the courage.


Mark: That’s totally understandable, I know everyone fears change to some degree and it’s hard to take that plunge. When you finally did though, was it liberating?


Steve: You know what if you don’t make changes for yourself life makes them for you. So I was like band, band, band, band. Even the last three bands I was in they were my songs you know, just under a band name. So eventually I couldn’t keep relying on people to want to be in a band because to be in a band these days you’ve got to be pretty mental! I mean I’m doing this Baby Animals tour but it’s not an overly financial thing. It’s something I want to do because I want to get my music out there and I can’t expect people to say “Hey man, I’ll work for next to nothing so you can get your record out there.” It just doesn’t work so being solo was the only way I could take it all on – so I’ll take the rap and take the glory. But really life made those changes for me.  It wasn’t totally planned.  




Mark: You mention in the press for the release that ‘adversity is a great teacher’ and there are some songs on the album that have that theme, was that a conscious thought you had in mind when you started writing or is that just what came out?


Steve: No, I don’t really write songs topically. I pretty much write about relationships, with yourself, and with something greater than yourself. One song ‘From Love to Dust’ is about break-up, but a band break up song.  It’s all really quite personal stuff, and I guess that’s my thing and I’ve really come to understand myself more. I don’t think there’s much more important to me at this time in my life to just be truthful and write what I know about.


Mark: The album is a lot more reflective and lower key than I imagined and just to put that in perspective I have only seen you twice once with the ‘Whole Lotta Love’ Led Zeppelin tribute and the other with Noiseworks at the Stone Music Festival earlier in the year. With that in mind were you tempted to raise the roof at least once on the album and really rock out?


Steve: No, not at all, I always say I don’t want to make people dance I just want to move them a bit. And there I think I’ve really found my core strength. I think I really can through not being afraid to hurt someone in a song (and here it’s mainly myself) really connect to people on a deep level. And that’s what I’m interested in.  


Mark: If we can talk about some of the songs that stood out for us: the acoustic led ‘Moving On’ is a sweet song, honeyed vocals and strummed chords, and when the female vocal kicks in it takes it to another level. It really connects and it feels like it’s one of the most important songs here.


Steve: You know I absolutely adore that song. When it started it was a breakup song, a partnership I had in business and I really needed to move on. I was secure so I had to find the courage to move on. So it’s kind of like a prayer, not that I’m an overly religious person, I’m a spiritual person. But I think that it is basically a prayer asking for help and finding that voice that comes to you when you’ve made those hard decisions. That voice that says alright this is what you need, you’ve made the decisions, it will be alright. So it’s a precious song and I’d probably put it in my top five of songs I’ve written. Even though I’m not playing it at the Baby Animals show, as it’s not really a pub rock song, so I played it at the Opera House to a pin drop and it’s perfect for that environment.


Mark: Another of our favourites is the bittersweet ballad ‘From Love to Dust’ we said which you could almost wring the tears from! It seems like a pivotal song on the album in some ways?


Steve:  I think you’re right you know. I had a band called ‘Move Trees’ that I put so much effort and love into and some of the guys didn’t quite realise that being in an original band was harder than they thought. They were musicians that were used to being paid for playing and they hit me up one day and said “Look we just don’t want to do this anymore”.  And I found a real level of acceptance though it really hurt I was really pleased with the feeling of love I had for those guys and understanding. And even though we didn’t think the same that was OK and we parted really peacefully and the very next day I went into the studio and wrote ‘From Love to Dust’ so I think you’re right. I think the album did really hinge on that song as a solo artist.


Mark: There are some songs on there from your band ‘Move Trees’ that you’ve reworked. I know you write all the time, but is the rest of the album from that time after the split or is there anything older on there?


Steve: It’s probably not an absolute indication of where I am at this exact moment, but what I wanted to do was put songs on there like ‘I found you’ that I’ve been playing for my faithful audience for so long that I thought it would be a crime to make a record without having a song like that on there for them. I guess what I wanted to do with this record changed over time. Originally I wanted to make a Troubadour record, but it ended up wanting to create a platform: somewhere to go from. I always had issues with being in Noiseworks so I recorded ‘Touch’ in my way so that I could own that and put that as one of the planks in my platform. There are some Move Trees songs because I felt that that were too good to keep on the shelf, and I had the blessings from the boys too. And now from that platform I’m about three quarters towards writing a new record and it’s so cool I can’t wait to get that one out. And the song ‘Why did it take so long’ was written only about four weeks before we recorded the record – so totally fresh.


Mark: In an album of highs and lows emotionally another real gem is ‘Sweet Sabotage’ which finds a great balance, and while the lyrics are solidly love-centric it also seems to be one of the most resolved songs on there I think? When does that date from?


Steve: That’s a pretty new song. It wouldn’t be six months old. And it is love-centric you’re absolutely right, it’s about a friend of mine and if I told you who it was the nation would flip out! You know when you see people just getting in their own way constantly, so much talent, so much to give yet – it’s so frustrating – I wrote that song for this person, they seem to be constantly struggling and I don’t know that life has to be that hard, you know.


Mark: I think we all know people like that; amazing people but seemingly their own worst enemies.


Steve: I’ve had my problems you know too, so I can understand. I’m glad you liked that song and those three you picked out are I think the ones that mean the most to me too.




Mark: You also mentioned the cover of ‘Touch’ and I just saw Jon play that one last week but of course he did the full-blown arrangement. You version is wonderfully low-key, almost stripping the layers back to the soul of the song. Did it take long to come up with a treatment that you were happy with?  


Steve: No really, it came up so many times when I play shows there’s always one person in the audience who will shout out “Play a Noiseworks song” and in the past I’ve never been able to entertain the idea. And in one of those reflective moments I have when I’m sat on the couch, thinking about being in Noiseworks and not really being able to make the kind of music I wanted to: It’s hard being in a band that wasn’t really true to my musical spirit… I suddenly thought it would be interesting to do a Noiseworks song and really own it. So I sat on the couch, got a guitar, put a capo on it and brought the vocal down. And I sat there and thought “What would Bruce Springsteen do with it” and it just started off really down home and it went from there. In the studio Mick’s playing hand drums on it, there’s piano. Then I took a bit of production to the middle eight and I was really pleased how it came out.   


Mark: It sounds great and it sits really well in the album. Looking to the tour you’re hitting the road with The Baby Animals in October/November and you really sound like you’re champing at the bit to get the music out there. How do you think it’s going to be received by that audience?


Steve: Well we’ve already done three shows and it’s just been great, the music’s been absolutely adored and that doesn’t always happen as a support band. And though some people know who I am a little bit there are some that haven’t connected the dots. But the music is just washing over them and I’m getting some beautiful responses and selling a few CDs as a result – so thumbs up so far!


Mark: So no one’s shouting out for Noiseworks then!


Steve: No but I am getting a few shouts for Electric Hippies!


Mark: That’s more my kind of thing


Steve: I was nearly tempted to play ‘Greedy People’ but we didn’t have time to rehearse it.




Mark: Taking it all the way back what was it that first inspired Steve Balbi to take up music and do those influences still resonate with you to this day?


Steve: For me it was all about running around my cousins place and seeing The Beatles cartoon for the first time, something hit me and I still remember the moment, just going wow! I want to be in the cartoonies!  Always as long back as I can remember and looking back at photos I had a guitar in my hand, I never really made a decision about what to do in life, I just did what I had to do. I never really made a decision and I feel really lucky about that as I know people really struggle with careers and what they want to do, but I never had to make that choice. So the Beatles started it and then I went through the rock thing:  Deep Purple , Led Zeppelin and Hendrix, then I remember having my first smoke of pot swinging on this cane chair having my first listen to Hunky Dory – and I thought oh my God what’s happening to me, and that’s where art came in and that fusion with rock. And even though Bowie was one of those great, eventually mainstream, artists I always see that as the greatest moment and that’s really strong. But I also love new music and there’s lots of really great new music out there.  I’m always discovering , but I’m not really too much into ‘pop’ music. I mean I love connecting with people , I love simple melodies and if that’s pop then maybe I do like pop music. I’m not into fame though and that whole bullshit that comes with it, I just want to make ‘soul’ music.  


Mark: Music’s certainly changed a lot over the years and with technology these days it’s so easy for people to look outside the mainstream.


Steve: I think they do and that’s the wonderful thing that’s really given me new lease of life. Having a record deal at my age and being able to focus it mainly online and I’m really seeing the results of that, selling records through that and nobody cares. I mean I’m finding people in Scotland, Canada, Spain writing to me and saying we found your music and we love it. And they don’t care what I’ve done in the past, they don’t care how old I am. I’ve not got a few thousand dollar video clip where I’m touching myself up, and it doesn’t matter!  (both laughing).


Mark: Are you doing a video?


Steve: You know what I think we will do a bunch and put them up virally online, It might be a bunch of videos for the same song, it could be existing footage. I saw this footage from the Middle East where kids were being brought up to be suicide bombers – I saw this one clip of this kid being strapped up with his explosives and it followed the car going down the road on this hand held camera and then the car explodes. So I thought of putting out that existing footage and passing it on. The days of spending big money on videos – it’s not worth it any more. Invention becomes the driver and that’s fantastic.


Mark: I guess that’s the beauty of where we are now, anything can go viral and the ability to communicate with people who have already found your music becomes easier and more personal.  I was hoping to get away with not asking you any Noiseworks questions but we got so much mail I have to slip one in there. I understand that you are also recording a new Noiseworks album?


Steve: Well we are and it’s about three quarters of the way through. And there are two reasons for that. First of all I don’t think that Noiseworks ever made a really great record and so it’s my intention to try to do that. Secondly it’s good business and that’s the truth of it.


Mark: It sounds like it’s coming along well then. Has the band changed much musically in the 22 years since your last release 1991’s ‘Love Versus Money’?


Steve: It has, I’m producing it and we wanted it to sound more current, without losing that Noiseworks ‘thing’ It certainly doesn’t sound like a band from the eighties, or a tired band from the eighties. It’s kicking!
Mark: I know when I saw your earlier this year at the Stone Music Festival you certainly sounded great, like you hadn’t missed a beat.


Steve: Yeah Jon is sounding better than he ever has. And I think on this record the songs are really strong. It should be great.




Mark: Just a couple we throw at everyone if that’s cool to close:  If you could have been a ‘Fly on the wall’ for the creation of any great album from any period, just to see how the magic happened and it all came together, what would it have been for you any why?


Steve: It’s hard, being a cup half full kind of guy it’s between ‘Hunky Dory’ and ‘Let it Be’ for me. Because Hunky Dory was in the midst of Bowie’s flower blooming it was a very positive new creation like no one had ever heard. On the darker side ‘let it Be’ was so tense, I don’t know if you’ve seen that film, it was so tense, yet despite that they made this incredible album.  If I’m going to have to pick one it’s Hunky Dory it has to be one of the best records ever made, the songs are incredible. No one has ever come near it.


Mark: Not even David! And to close: what is the meaning of life?


Steve: (pauses) I think the key to my life is gratitude and with that for me being able to tell stories about those experiences. I don’t feel there’s good or bad, right or wrong: there are good days and bad days that all just accumulate into your life, and I think accepting each day and having gratitude for what they are is the key.


Mark: I think that’s one of the most eloquent answers we’ve ever had. So we can all go out and buy ‘Black Rainbow’ now?


Steve: Yes they can go to I-tunes or buy it from my website


Mark: Or even better they can come out and see you live with the Baby Animals and pick up a copy there.


Steve: And I’ll even sign it for them. It’s been a pleasure talking to you Mark, see you over in Perth if you have the time to come and say ‘hi’.


Mark: I certainly will, take care and have a great one. I can’t wait to see those songs live.





Wednesday, 30 October
The Wool Exchange – Geelong

Thursday, 31 October
The Corner Hotel –  Melbourne

Saturday, 2 November
Astor Theatre – Perth

Saturday, 9 November
Metro Theatre – Sydney




Steve spoke to Mark Diggins October 2013





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