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Steve talks to Xap magazine Print E-mail
Friday, 01 January 1988
The Church: An Interview with Steve Kilbey
by Rachel Felder

I've never really liked The Church. Then again, I've never really disliked them
either --they've always seemed to me to be the innocuous aural equivalent of,
say, beige striped wallpaper.

But that was before I met Steve Kilbey, the band's lyricist, main vocalist, and
self-proclaimed "non-leader." Kilbey, complete with blue eyes and pointy black
boots, has a contagious belief in his music, its power and its passion. That
conviction, combined with an almost confessional sense of his normality (the
"yes, I''m a real guy" syndrome), makes Kilbey a direct, almost disarmingly
articulate individual, so intent on his creations that he just might convince
you they're art.

Take his view of the success of the Starfish album in America. He says simply,
"I think the feelings which were on Starfish made it a more valid,
understandable, accessible album. The essence is how it makes people feel;
that's what music is all about: to describe feelings you can't put into words."

But articulating otherwise ethereal images is Kilbey's specialty, with subtle,
gauzy lyrics that might seem more appropriate in a poetry book than inside a
record sleeve. As he puts it, "I've always thought that just because it's rock,
it doesn't mean that the lyrics have to be banal. I can appreciate the 'she was
sixteen, you know what I mean' lyrics but I will strive to see if I can get
something a bit more cerebral, a bit more interesting."

This determination to explore lyrically as well as musically has led Kilbey to
venture into solo projects. "About two or three years ago, I'd been making lots
of tapes in my small recording studio at home, and I just released a batch of
them. That was my first solo album: it was just bedroom tapes, virtually, and it
did quite well. Then I wrote a book of prose-poetry and made an instrumental
album to describe that book. Then I made an album of simply songs called The
Slow Crack, which I did at home. I'm not going to release it in America, because
I don't want people to think that everything I've done on my own was done in my
bedroom."

For many bands, these solo experiments would have lead to abrasive animosity,
but for the Church, each member's individual projects have, if anything,
strengthened the band's unity. Kilbey attests that "we're a group and we
intersect as a group; it's like four lines -- everyone makes a unique, yet
integrated contribution to what we do." Nevertheless, he acknowledges the
differences between his solo work and the other member's. "Apparently, it helps
the other guys let off steam, because I tend to be the singer for 95% of the
songs. For me, it's like the Church is one aspect of what I can do, and here
are a few others." For the future, he admits, "I'd like to keep revealing new
aspects, but I don't want it to seem like here's the Church and occasionally I
break out of the prison camp and run off and do something before they grab me
and pull me in again."

 But if the Church isn't prison for Kilbey, touring is. For the past eight
   months, the Church have been schlepping tirelessly across the world, something
   which he confesses to loathing. "You've got to imagine the isolation," he moans.
   "You go into this town, four o'clock in the afternoon, go in and do a sound
   check, have dinner at let's say six, then you have five hours on your own in
   your hotel. What do you do? At eleven, you go in, do the gig, then you're back
   in your room again, all on your own, your ears ringing, unable to sleep, and you
   get up at nine o'clock and travel for nine hours on the bus to the next place
   and then it starts again. There's no real stimulation;  it's dreadfully dull."

   As for any relief from his bandmates, he points out, "We all know each other  so
   well, it's like we're not really company anymore. Everything that anyone's got
   to say everybody's already heard; we all know our philosophies on life, death,
   sex, religion, politics."

  And if this extended, artificial environment seems the stuff which lyrics are
  made of, think again. "I'd rather write on a nice morning, sitting in a warm
  cottage looking at the beach with friends coming round to drink some tea, than
  in this dreadful, clinical isolation," he admits. But despite this contempt,
  he's got to admit to the influence so many months in America has had. In his
  words, "America's become part of my stamping [stomping?] ground. If you spend a
  lot of time somewhere, all your thoughts, positive  and negative and ambivalent
  thoughts, creep into what you do."

Which leads to the Church's music: moody, somber, booming with confident guitars
and coyly lithe vocals. According to Kilbey, the group are conscious of their
sound, and plan to keep it the way it is. "We are a guitar band," he says.
"That's what we do best; that's what people like about us. We will continue to
be a guitar band until the day we drop. The Church have defined what we are, so
there won't be any high tech synth in the band, just as a chamber string quartet
doesn't incorporate trumpets and pianos, because that's what they are."

But despite that decidedly fixed focus, Kilbey acknowledges that the Church are
far from flawless. "A lot of people like "Under The Milky Way" and that's as
deep as they'll ever go, some people will buy our next album, and a lesser
group will buy our previous albums. But a very small minority are going to want
to find out what these guys are all about, and they'll dig deeper. What they'll
find won't be perfect, but vulnerability and mistakes and intimate details will
be revealed.  I think vulnerability is attractive for a lot of people, and by
the time people are digging to that deep level, that's what they want anyway."

Maybe it's that added understanding of the Church as individuals, not just
collective musicians, which is a necessary precedent for enjoying their music.
[ex-squeeze me?!] Somehow, hearing Steve Kilbey groan at the prospect of touring
or ooze about his feelings puts the band's music in context: Starfish isn't
about image or pretense or trends, it's about clean, crisp rock 'n' roll, seeped
in tingling guitar and crashing drums. Sure, the band may not have the immediacy
of countrymates Paul Kelly and the Messengers, or the runaway success of INXS,
but the Church are filling a "give us some honest music" void which too many
other bands aren't even approaching. With that in mind, the Church's next album,
soon to be recorded, may just leap out of my beige striped wallpaper and onto my
dusty black turntable.
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