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Steve and Marty talk about Gold Afternoon Fix Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 April 1990
***********************************************************
  Source: Request Magazine (USA)
   Issue: No.?
    Date: Apr, 1990
 Sunject: Interview - Kilbey, Willson-Piper
***********************************************************

GRACE LAND
  THE CHURCH FINDS SALVATION
    IN THE SPACE BETWEEN ART AND ROCK
      by Harold DeMuir


"I think it's important to remember that life is a joke, the music
industry is a joke, I'm a joke, and The Church is a joke," says Steve
kilbey, The Church's bassist and lead singer. "At least it's a joke on
one level. On another level I take it very seriously, but it's always
in the back of my mind that what we're doing isn't very important in
the larger scheme of things. I like the fact that I'm old and ugly
enough to realize that, whether or not my record's a hit, I'm still
incredibly small and insignificant."

Not exactly the sort of cozy promotional chatter you might expect to
accompany the release of "Gold Afternoon Fix", the eagerly awaited
follow-up to "Starfish", the Australian quartet's American break
through.  But then, members of the Church aren't the sort to indulge in
shameless self-promotion.

"Half the reason the Church took so long to get this far," says
guitarist Marty Willson-Piper, "is that until very recently, we always
fought against having to do anything involving the media or
promotion:'You want us to do a video - why?' 'You want us to do an
interview - why?'"

Over the past decade, the Church has pursued an equally iconoclastic
musical course. Though they're still often mistaken for paisley
revivalists, the Church's relationship to psychedelia is more a matter
of deeply held musical ideals than style mongering, and the result is
contemporary head rock, a seamless hybrid of rock 'n roll energy and
art-rock aesthetics.

The group's 1981 debut album "Of Skins and Heart" (including the now-
classic single "The Unguarded Moment"), was a promising if conventional
affair. On the subsequent "The Blurred Crusade" and "Seance", the
Church carved out a more distinctive niche but remained a cult band in
the United States (where "Blurred Crusade" and "Seance" weren't
released until 1988).

An association with Warner Bros. returned the Church to the U.S.
market via the 1984 lp "Remote Luxury", actually a compilation of two
Australian ep's. Though the spotty "Remote Luxury" strongly hinted that
the band was on its last legs, 1986's "Heyday" showcased a revitalized
Church. That renewed energy extended to the band's live shows, which
spotlighted the soaring multilevel interplay between Willson-Piper and
fellow axeman Peter Koppes.

In addition to being its most focused effort to date, the Church's 1988
Arista debut "Starfish" was also the beneficiary of its new label's
promotional resources, winning the band a sizeable U.S. audience with
the haunting, restrained single "Under the Milky Way."

"Gold Afternoon Fix" builds on "Starfish's" strenghts, taking a
slightlymore expansive musical approach. And on tracks like "Pharoah",
"You're Still Beautiful", and "Terra Nova Cain", principal lyricist
Kilbey - who previously swathed his songs in wispy fantasy and
introspective imagery - takes a witheringly bleak view of
civilization's current state.

"In the past, you'd never find anything nasty on a Church album",
admits Kilbey. "Everything was kind of vague, and there was never any
real bite. I used to strive to create music that was beautiful, but i
think I've modified that a bit now. In retrospect, I think that trying
to be purely beautiful - whatever that means - is a bit one-
dimensional. I think it's good to offer an alternative to the ugly
reality of day-to-day living, but I don't want to reflect mundane
situations lyrically or musically.  Actually, there are quite a few
ugly songs on this album."

The band recorded "Gold Afternoon Fix" in Los Angeles with producer
Waddy Wachtel, who also co-produced "Starfish" with fellow soft- rock
specialist Greg Ladanyi. Given the band members' professed distaste for
LA, their decision to return there and work with Wachtel again comes as
a surprise.

"When we did 'Starfish', we hated being in LA", says Kilbey.  "The
producers hadn't heard of us and didn't know what we were supposed to
be, and a lot of that struggle came through on the record. But this
time, coming back as a relatively successful band, it was a lot
friendlier.  Waddy was treating us with a lot more respect, and the Los
Angeles thing didn't seem to make that much of a difference".

"Waddy was the better half of the pair that produced 'Starfish', and
the rapport improved because we'd had some success on the last album,
so it's not as hypocritical as it seems," says Koppes, who wrote and
sang the lyrics of "Transient" on the new LP. "Also, my sister moved to
LA, so that helped me overcome my earthquake paranoia a little bit."

One notable absence from "Gold Afternoon Fix" is Marty Willson- Piper's
trademark 12-string guitar. "I had this one Rickenbacker 12-string,
which I loved, and somebody stole it from our manager's office," says
Willson-Piper. "When I started trying other Rickenbacker 12-strings, I
just couldn't get the same tone. But I've got a Rickenbacker six-string
with an ancient tremolo-bar assembly, and that's got a great tone.
That's the one I kept picking up when we wrote the new songs, and
that's the one that's all over the new album. It's probably a minute
detail to the rest of the universe, and I don't know if anybody's even
gonna notice it, but to me it makes a huge difference".

The Church is taking its improved industry status in stride.
"Recognition is a funny thing," says Willson-Piper. "Suzanne Vega was
down at Folk City every saturday night playing for 50 people who all
thought she was brilliant. Six months later she was selling millions of
records in every city of the world - not because she was any more
brilliant, but because somebody put a marketing campaign together.

"The only reason more people bought 'Starfish' was because more people
were exposed to it. When it sold 410,000 copies, we all looked at each
other and went, 'Wait a minute, this isn't so different from our last
five records, why's it so big?' I don't know - timing, promotion,
luck.  And it's the same with this one; if it doesn't sell, I won't
know why."

This higher commercial profile hasn't altered the group's working
methods. "Accidents still play a big part in what we do," says
Willson-Piper. "You've got to leave the opportunity for accidents to
happen, otherwise you're leaving your creative doors closed. The
biggest problem with most popular music is that it doesn't allow for
that element of chance."

"I'm always surprised when we manage to write a bunch of songs and
record an album," Kilbey adds, "because it's still incredibly
untogether and disorganized. If we'd written these songs a month
earlier or a month later, they could have been radically different.
It's like a sperm floating up to an ovum - depending on which sperm
swims the fastest, you could have the guy who's gonna bring peace to
the world or you could have an axe murderer. When we write the songs,
none of us really knows what we're trying to get at. We just jam
together and occasionally we'll hit a groove that takes on a life of
its own and eventually becomes a song."

In certain quarters, much has been made of the role of mind- altering
substances in the Church's creative process. Koppes, however, is
matter- of- fact on the subject. "I don't see anything wrong with the
educated use of drugs," he says. "It's good to experiment with
different frames of mind when we're writing. Fanaticism is a disease,
whether it's pro or against drugs, and I think it's long past the time
when we should be frightened of mentioning drugs in interviews."

For the foreseeable future, the Church will function without longtime
drummer Richard Ploog, who'll be replaced on the band's upcoming tour
by ex-Patti Smith stickman Jay Dee Daugherty. Kilbey describes Ploog's
status as "temporarily excommunicated, with the possibility of it
becoming a permanent thing. Before people start thinking that Richard
was unceremoniously dropped once we got popular, I should say that
Richard wanted this and deserved this, so what's happening now is very
much his choice. It had to happen eventually - he just couldn't hack
it, and he didn't want to.

"The band feels very stong at the moment," says Kilbey. "It's a bit
like a family; when one member goes away, the rest of the family bonds
together more strongly. Three seems to be a very strong number."

A key element in the band's rejuvenation has been the adoption of a
collaborative songwriting policy. "On the majority of the songs on
'Heyday', I said 'I'm not gonna sit at home and write songs for the
band anymore; we're gonna write the songs together, because that's the
only way the band's gonna survive.' Now when we play on stage, people
are playing parts they've written themselves, so everyone feels a
bigger stake in the songs."

With the Church functioning as a more democratic unit, Kilbey, Koppes
and Willson-Piper have emerged as surprisingly prolific solo artists.
Kilbey released four albums of eight-track home recordings (the latest
of which, "Remindlessness", was just released in Australia) and
collaborated with girlfriend Donnette Thayer on two LP's under the name
Hex. Meanwhile, Willson-Piper and Koppes produced three solo discs
each; most recent being "Rhyme"(Rykodisc) and "From the Well (TVT)
respectively.

"I'm always surprised when I hear our solo records," says Kilbey,
because I don't hear much of the Church in them. The good thing is, now
that we're doing solo records, the Church is based completely on the
interaction of Marty, Pete, and myself. I think that's one of the
things that makes it strong.

"There's nothing more painfully pretentious than a rock musician
saying, 'My music's not entertainment, man, it's art,'" he concludes.
"But having said that, I do think that the Church aspires to do more
than just entertain. I'm sure you can get some satisfaction from
tapping your foot and singing along, or from marveling at our
contraputnal scales and literary devices. But I think we aspire to
something a bit deeper, and I'd like to think that we achieve that
occasionally. It's still a joke though".

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