In 2009 I was commissioned by CCEntertainment to write a profile on a music artist, producer, singer, songwriter who has had a profound influence in Australian Rock Music. In the late 80’s/early 90’s, Noiseworks came into prominence on the Australian rock scene at time that was dominated by INXS, Midnight Oil and Crowded House. In meeting Steve Balbi and getting to know him in moments ‘off stage’, one gets a sense that the man has wisdom well beyond his appearance. Seeing him on stage, one sees a transformation of a seasoned performer, almost like a actor transitioning into character. The following article was published as the cover story in edition 2 of CCE Magazine, a publication that truly celebrates the art of live music performance.
An inauspicious ad in a local newspaper, “Writer wants writer to work with”, founded a rock group that went on to become one of the most iconic bands of the late 80’s in Australia.
Noiseworks had a string of hits leading up to their final album, but “Hot Chilli Woman” is the track that remains in the Australian psyche when we think of `The Works’. It can therefore come as something of a revelation that their most famous track wasn’t created by lead singer Jon Stevens, but was instead penned by founding member Steve Balbi.
A successful Australian songwriter, there is much more to Balbi than many realise, having worked with musical icons such as David Bowie, Tom Jones, Jimmy Barnes and Michael Hutchence.
The early beginnings of Noiseworks can be traced back to Balbi responding to that simple ad. Upon arriving at the meeting, another musician who also responded to the ad was there. His name was Justin Stanley, who would become the keyboard player of Noiseworks. Whilst this initial songwriting trio didn’t work out, there was a “synergy” between Balbi and Stanley.
The duo soon were soon joined by Jon Stevens, Stuart Fraser and Kevin Nicol who Steve Balbi was already playing with. “We had a play and it felt really good, and then we thought it can’t hurt to see what happens, so we wrote some songs.” Their first round of songs was written with LA based producer Louie Sheldon who took the tracks to Sony, landing them a record deal. “In a way it was an amazing journey, and it was a fantastic passport to indulgence”.
Balbi describes the third album as his “Moment of Truth”. He and Justin Stanley were to spend more time in production, and the record company decided to send Jon Stevens
and Stuart Fraser to the US to write songs with “hit” songwriters.
“I remember being in a meeting”, recalls Balbi “and sort of saying ‘Its a band, I think its probably a bit of a mistake to do that’, but that happened anyway”. Stevens and Fraser left for the US, whilst, Balbi and Stanley were left to their own devices in a small office in East Sydney to work on material. Unhappy with a situation Balbi saw as unfair, he approached their manager Michael Browning in the middle of the night to strike a deal.
This approach was a clever one, giving the manager not only a sense of opting in, but of being part of a defining moment in the band’s history.
Balbi goes on to tell the story, “And I said ‘What kind of song do you want? If I could write you a song, give us a week in the studio’. And he (Browning) just sat there and
said, ‘fast cars, rock and roll… chicks’, and so I went down stairs picked up the guitar and coined ‘Hot Chilli Woman’. I wrote it in about 20 minutes went up stairs, played it to him and he liked it.
“It was a bit of a joke as far as I was concerned. It was a dare, a way of getting some more money to get into the studio.”. Obviously, Browning honored his end of the deal and Hot Chilli Woman went on to become one of Noiseworks biggest hits. Although the iconic track brought the band commercial success, Balbi goes on to describe the incident as the “beginning of the end” of Noiseworks. However he and Justin Stanley really connected at a deeper level during that time, laying the foundations for the Vincent Stone record and beginning of the Electric Hippies.
Balbi from the beginnings of CCEntertainment
Balbi has been a part of the CCEntertainment live shows since 2003. “I’d run into Joseph (Calderazzo) at the basement a few times as he was working with other artists”. says Balibi, and he describes his initial experiences with the first CCE Shows, “It just seemed like a good idea and a lot of fun. And at that point in time, that’s what it was. I knew most of the band and I met a whole heap of new singers and artists. It was just a great night out, it really was.”.
Balbi brings his own style of entertainment to these shows. “I think what I like to do is be unpredictable and change things up a little bit. I like to take a lot of risks, as in
calling different solos or breaking the band down, or a bit of audience action and a little bit of madness.”
“It’s quite logical that a few years down the track the show is at the Enmore Theatre because it just gotten better, and better, and better. I’m proud to be a part of it actually, and I’ve always been asked back, I’ve done every show. So I feel really honored to be asked back every time, its great.”. For CCEntertainment, the Whole Lotta Love show at the Enmore Theatre in September 2009 is a real coming of age for the company, and one that Balbi has been an influential part of.
Acoustic and Onwards
In recent times, Balbi has been playing intimate venues like the Vanguard in Sydney’s inner suburb of Newtown, with an acoustic solo or duo original show. He has numerous projects in various stages of production, as well as an album from his recent band Move Trees and has also been co-writing with Noiseworks front man Jon Stevens.
Balbi definition of success is a profound one. “Being true to your gift and doing what you believe in.”.
Special thanks to Kelsey Brookes who edited the article, giving it that extra punch I was looking for.
www.stevebalbi.com Steve’s official website
www.ccent.com.au CCEntertainment website
www.stuharris.com Photography by Stuart Harris
www.ccemagonline.realviewtechnologies.com Digital version of CCE Magazine Edition 002