The Big Issue : Edition 441
34 THebigissue25JAN–7Feb2013 After the Noise photographbyrUSSELLChErry Fame came with bewildering suddenness. “We ended up getting a record deal, having a hit and then the next 10 years kind of flew by and I was stuck behind a bass guitar,” he says. Each album sold better than the last, but Balbi was never content. In the early 1990s he called it quits. “I left Noiseworks after a number-one record ’cause I just couldn’t do it anymore.” That record was 1991’s Love Versus Money, and a Greatest Hits compilation following his departure landed them another Top 10 hit. “I don’t mean any disrespect for what Noiseworks gave me and the friendships I have, but I was creatively dying because I needed to express myself personally. I needed to be the voice of it. That’s when I left Noiseworks with Justin and we started the Electric Hippies.” Electric Hippies were never as big as Noiseworks, but they did okay. Although Balbi was creatively satisfied, his drinking was worsening. “My personal war got in the way there,” he says. “My dear friend Justin pulled the pin. His words were: ‘I can’t just watch you kill yourself.’ He said, ‘You sort yourself out and we can continue’... [I thought I’d] just stop behaving like I was behaving, and of course I couldn’t do it.” While he’s explaining all this, Balbi never says the word ‘alcoholic’ out loud. Instead, he describes himself with AA phrases like ‘an egomaniac with an inferiority complex’. “I didn’t even really admit it then. I didn’t really believe him. I just thought, ‘I’ll stop just to get you and everyone else off my back and we’ll continue being rock’n’roll heroes.’ It wasn’t until about five years after that, when my ship was pretty much sunk, it became life and death.” Balbi is disdainful of the idea that musicians are more susceptible to alcoholism than others. “That’s a myth,” he says. “It’s anybody. The only honourable thing about addiction is that it doesn’t discriminate. Nobody’s safe.” Now he’s reclaiming another part of his past. “When I left Noiseworks I always tried to tiptoe around pretending I wasn’t in Noiseworks, because for a while there it was, and still is, a bit uncool to have been in a band like that.” But his latest project, the debut solo album Black Rainbow, features a cover of one of Noisework’s biggest hits: the 1988 single ‘Touch’. Why revisit it after all these years? “Just to own that part of my life,” he says, “and go, ‘Bang, this is it. This is where I’m at right now.’ From here, I can move on.” by Jody Macgregor » Black Rainbow is out now. Balbi tours with Baby Animals, 12 October – 9 November. STEvE BAlBI HIT his lowest point 14 years and seven months ago. The rock’n’roll lifestyle made it easy for the bassist from Noiseworks and Electric Hippies to swear off alcohol whenever “the heat was on”, and then get out of detox and back to his old ways. But only up to a point. “One day I just started crying,” he says. “I bawled and I bawled for hours. I couldn’t stop.” He was sitting at a friend’s kitchen table, “the only friend that would have me” at that point, when he was overcome by tears. A phone book was sitting on the table, coincidentally open to the name of a rehab clinic because his friend called someone whose surname began with the same letter. “I called it and I got in there and that was the beginning of me and sobriety.” By then Balbi had been in rock bands for most of his life. He put his first band together when just 10 years old. About two years later, the band hit their high point: coming second in the now long-defunct Channel 10 talent show Pot of Gold. “We got beaten by a clown, believe it or not...he was funnier than us, I guess.” An inauspicious beginning, but the young Balbi was obviously doing something right. In the mid-1970s, when Kevin Borich of antipodean mod band The la De Das was starting a new group, Kevin Borich Express, he gave Balbi a call. “At the tender age of 16, I packed my bag and jumped in his red Falcon and off we went around the country,” Balbi recalls. “For the next four years I barely unpacked my suitcase.” But playing bass in someone else’s band wasn’t enough. Balbi preferred the guitar and wanted to show off his songwriting. He auditioned for acts including Rose Tattoo, although he never actually played with them (“That’s some Wikipedia rubbish,” he says of the rumour), and met his eventual songwriting partner, Justin Stanley, when they answered the same classified ad seeking songwriters. At the same time, Balbi did his friend Stuart Fraser a one-time favour, playing bass on his band’s recording. “For the whole next year Stuart and the boys would periodically turn up at my place and ask me to join the band. I would say, ‘Thank you, but no. I’m doing something with this guy called Justin.’ After a while Stuart and the boys came round and said, ‘Okay, we’re not gonna ask you to join the band – can we join your band?’” Those boys were Jon Stevens and Kevin Nicol, and that band became Noiseworks, which – between 1987 and 1991 – scored three singles and three albums in the Australian Top 10 charts. 34 THe big issue 13 – 26 sep 2013 Former Noiseworks bassist steve balbi has beeN From rock’s top to rock bottom. these days he is set to tour his First solo album aNd reclaim his past so he caN move oN From it.