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Steve talks to Bucketfull of Brains about Heyday and more Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 February 1986
  Source: Bucketfull of Brains Magazine (London, Eng.)
   Issue: No.15
    Date: Feb, 1986
 Subject: Interview - Steve Kilbey

  by Jon Storey

I'm particularly pleased to be able to include the "Warm Spell" flexi
together with the Steve Kilbey interview.

      By Jon Stoney

Back in 1981 there wasn't a garage band on every block, good guitar
bands were thin on the ground and psychedelic bands were a similarly
scarce commodity.  There were however a handful of practitioners of
these almost forgotten arts: the Barracudas, Cannibals and Mood Six
here in the UK, the Dogs in France and the Chesterfield Kings, Lyres
and Droogs amongst the Americans. In Australia, currently deluged in
great new bands, there was The Church- another gleam in the general
musical dross then prevalent.  I can still vividly recall the first
showing of the video for the Church's 2nd 45 "The Unguarded Moment" on
BBC TV's "Whistle Test" program, and from that moment I became a
staunch fan of the band. Their subsequent four albums are well played
favorites in this household, with the debut LP and "The Blurred
Crusade" ("Field Of Mars" from the latter would easily make it into my
all-time top ten tracks) being particularly revered.

Despite the four albums and a host of excellent 45s and EPs there was
rarely anything about the band in fanzines or indeed the mainstream
music press outside of Australia and this state of affairs, compounded
by the fact that no new material was released  between mid '83 and
October '85 (when the latest 45 "Already Yesterday" was issued), has
resulted, in my view, in the Church being shamefully overlooked amidst
the tidal wave of new bands. Recently the band have been signed
worldwide by EMI and the new album, "Heyday" is already available in
the USA and Australia and should be issued in the UK in April, preceded
by the single "Tantalized". This album is somewhat of a departure in
that eight of the ten tracks are credited to the whole band- whereas,
in the past, songs were composed almost exclusively by Steve Kilbey and
in addition the instrumentation has been augmented by a small
orchestra. As Steve Kilbey says: "the real challenge was to compose
together, to put our identity to the test, to let five long years of
constant playing pay off in a week or two of spontaneous creativity. I
feel the result of this gamble is the loosest, warmest and most
musically exciting album we could make". From the opening moments of
"Myrrh" it's evident that all the former Church trademarks are here-
the songs are exquisitely crafted, exotic yet totally accessible with
the strings and horns adding rather than obscuring.  If any record by
the Church is sufficient to boost them from cult-status to popular
appeal, this is the one to do it- here's hoping.

Determined to extend my meager knowledge of the Church I contacted
singer, guitarist & songwriter Steve Kilbey in January and the results
of the long distance interview are printed here. Thanks are due to
Steve himself for taking the trouble to wade through my pages of
questions and for so readily agreeing to the inclusion of the
previously unreleased track "Warm Spell" on the flexi-disc included
with this issue; thanks are also extended to all at Mike's Management
in New York for their invaluable assistance.

        When, why and how did the Church first come together?

        The Church originally came together in April 1980; there was
        Peter Koppes, myself and a drummer called Nick Ward who played
        on some of the first album.  Peter and I had known each other
        previously and been in a few bands- mucking about. I had a four
        track studio in my bedroom and we had been recording a few
        things and decided that they sounded good enough to do
        something. Peter hauled in Nick Ward, who he knew, who was a
        fairly heavy kind of a character- eventually it didn't work out
        and when he left the band Richard (Ploog) joined, that was
        after we'd recorded most of the first album. Then we were
        based, as we always have been, in Sydney. We started off doing
        very small gigs with a band who were friends of ours and things
        snowballed from there.

        What previous musical experience did you have?

        Peter and I had been in a number of bands in Canberra that had
        never done anything at all, some of their names were Precious
        Little and Baby Grand but they never released any records - all
        we did was play at a few school socials.  Marty Willson-Piper
        was in a band in England called the True Hundred, who also
        never released anything; Richard Ploog was in a whole lot of
        bands- Exhibit A, Loose Kicks....  he was also in a band, at
        one stage, with Doctor Robert who's now in the Blow Monkeys.

        Who chose the name "The Church" and have you ever had any
        serious objections?

        I chose the name. We've never had any really serious
        objections. We had a death threat once when we were playing on
        Easter Sunday- a whole lot of people rang up and thought there
        was a Mass on somewhere because of our name- that in turn got
        some newspaper coverage and the whole thing turned into a bit
        of a joke and someone objected to that and said they were going
        to come and get us live on stage with guns...but it never
        happened. The name was just one at random from a list I had- at
        that stage we never envisaged it being anything more than just
        a band mucking about in small pubs and things.

        What music were you listening to at that time, who inspired

        The Church has always had an incredibly eclectic range of
        influences...the Beatles, the Byrds, Dylan, Be-Bop Deluxe,
        Cockney Rebel, Doctors Of Madness, pre "Dark Side Of The Moon"
        Pink Floyd, Big Star, the Stones, Who, T. Rex, basically anyone
        who's done anything good in the last 20 years. All of those
        bands inspired us. Marty's into Can and Neu and Amon Duul and
        all those things. I've been into electronic and folk music and
        Richard has always been an extreme 60's freak as has Peter.

        How did your deal with Parlophone and Carrere come about?

        We signed to ATV/Northern Songs at a very early stage. They had
        a deal with EMI that everything they did would be released on
        Parlophone. We didn't really have much say with Carrere who had
        signed with ATV.

        Did you release any records prior to "The Unguarded Moment"

        Yes, we did release one single called "She Never Said" which
        was different to the version on the first album. The B side was
        called "In A Heartbeat" which was described at the time as
        being a Kinks-y type of thing.

BOB: Can you tell me about the major tours that you have

        We've been doing major tours of Australia for the last 5 years,
        five thousand people down to two hundred in pubs in the

        Why don't you tour in Europe more often?

        It's mainly a financial thing. When we played there in 1982 we
        lost a lot of money- we had to come back to Australia and flog
        ourselves round some fairly undesirable places just to get our
        money back. We want to play Europe properly or not at all. We
        did tour the USA in '84 and the reaction was really good. We
        played the Ritz in New York and the Palace in L.A. and got
        really good reviews.

        Did you use a keyboard player on that tour?

        We have been using keyboard players for the last couple of
        years- none of them have ever been part of the group. That guy
        (on the US tour) was called Greg Kuehne and he'd done some
        playing with "New Wave" bands. We have no plans to add anyone
        as a permanent member of the group.

        What do you think about the resurgence of psychedelic and
        guitar bands?

        I think it's great, I'd rather hear guitars than synthesizers
        any day. We toured with the Rain Parade who are a great guitar
        band and there's some good ones in Australia: the Ups and
        Downs, Lighthouse Keepers, Triffids. We're in a bit of a cocoon
        here, consequently I'm not much of an authority on the new
        bands- that's more Marty or Richards department.

        Do you regard the Church as forerunners of this movement and
        does it give you hope for the future?

        Well, we were doing it before a lot of the other bands, in a
        way. I don't think many of them use us as an influence because
        I don't think we have much impact on the world at large. In one
        way we're an unacknowledged forerunner. It doesn't really give
        me hope for the future because I think that bands rise and fall
        on their own merits, I don't think being part of a "new guitar
        movement" is going to help you in the long run.

        Can you go through each of your records and tell me which
        tracks you particularly like or find successful?

        I wasn't real happy with the first album at all but probably
        "Bel Air" was successful- I like the lyric and I think what was
        to become our trademark with the guitar started happening on
        that track in particular. "Is This Where You Live" was an OK
        track, perhaps a little bit pompous and Gothic or grandiose-
        but I still think it had good lyrics and conjured up Sydney-ish
        images.  "Tear It All Away", which was intended to be on the
        album but came out as part of a double single here, was
        representative of what we would start doing later on. I think
        most of the tracks on the next album, "The Blurred Crusade",
        were successful in the way we envisaged them, "Almost With You"
        was a bit of a hit in Australia, and it was a nice taster for
        the rest of the album- I think everything that happened on the
        rest of the album was included on that track. "When You Were
        Mine" was a very popular track live and we never get away
        without playing it. "An Interlude" has always been a favorite
        of mine, I wrote the lyrics in 1978 while I was staying in
        London. Next was "Sing Songs" which was actually a demo album.
        We had been in danger of losing our deal with Capitol Records
        and they wanted to hear 4 new songs which they, in their
        wisdom, thought would be some hit singles. We knocked out these
        four, learnt them, recorded them and mixed them in one or two
        nights. They didn't want to put them out, or the "Blurred
        Crusade" album so I thought why not put them out called "Sing
        Songs" which was quite an honest title. People were expecting
        the perfect production of "The Blurred Crusade" and fairly
        disappointed with this EP, It was taken in the wrong spirit I
        suppose. "The Night Is Very Soft" and "In This Room" were quite
        successful tracks, we never again followed the direction of
        those- It was a little avenue or dead-end that we left
        unexplored. "The Night Is Very Soft" appealed to me, it was the
        first time the Church did anything with a vaguely sexual feel
        to it.  Then there's (the LP) "Seance", I liked "Fly" and
        "Travel By Thought" which was the first time we really cut
        loose just for the sheer hell of making lots of noises. On the
        other side I think "Now I Wonder Why" was the quintessential
        track by the Church; it's a very dreamy, melancholy thing that
        worked well, I don't think it was a great mix- I would have
        liked the drums to sound a little different on that, I like the
        part at the end where all the voices start whispering the
        lyrics at once. Then came "Remote Luxury" (which was actually a
        combination of two EPs, "Remote Luxury" and "Persia"). The best
        tracks were "Constant In Opal", which had a good mechanical
        feel about it, and "Shadow Cabinet" where the lyrics were
        interpretable on a number of levels. Then there's the new album
        ("Heyday") and my favorite track is "Myrrh" which defines 1986
        Church, it's all the best things about us.

        Who is Michele Parker, who sings on "It's No Reason" and
        co-wrote "The Unguarded Moment"?

        She was a friend and sometime collaborator of mine who I don't
        have much to do with anymore. She now runs a clothing shop in

        Which do you consider your most artistically successful album?

        If we're not going to talk about "Heyday" I think I'd have to
        say "The Blurred Crusade".  I think it was the definitive
        Church album, it had a dreaminess, a luxury, a polish or
        luster. Some of the lyrics are a little fourth-form poetry-ish,
        but it didn't seem like that at the time. We recorded that mid
        1981 so it's almost 5 years old. I think on that album we
        formulated the whole groundwork for the Church, the guitarists
        got it down how they were going to inter-react.  Bob
        Clearmountain did a superb job on the mix, and it had a nice
        cover. I remember that LP with very fond memories.

        And the least successful?

        That would have to be "Remote Luxury", there's a couple of
        tracks that I really hate, like "Maybe These Boys" which was
        done as a kind of satire/send-up of that type of music; it was
        just a mistake. Compared to "Heyday" ,where we've come back and
        are really working as a group, it really pales into
        insignificance. I think "Remote Luxury" is a pretty throw-away
        album and hopefully that'll be the last time something like
        that will happen.

        There has recently been released a Steve Kilbey solo 45, why
        was this?

        I write hundreds of songs in my bedroom studio. The rest of the
        band were on holiday and I had a few songs- I really liked
        "Asphalt Eden" as a song and it gave me the chance to do my
        best Scott Walker deep-voice thing. It didn't do particularly
        well, in fact it was rather ignored. I did it just for the hell
        of it really, waste a bit of EMI's money.

        Do you feel restricted within the framework of the Church?

        Of course I do! Everything we do has to have two
        guitars.....I'm happy to work within those restrictions and I
        think on the new album we're breaking out of them- making this
        album has opened up a lot of vistas to us and I'm feeling quite
        happy to work within the Church.  I could have a recording deal
        in America to continue to put out solo material, if I so chose.
        I don't know If I'm going to get the time, it all depends on
        how the (Church's) new album does.

        Have you recorded any other solo material?

        No. A character out here called Ignacious Jones put out a
        record that I wrote called "Like A Ghost" which had a version
        of "It's No Reason" on the B side. I believe it did quite well
        in the gay clubs in San Francisco but apart from that I think
        it sunk without a trace. I think it was released on Ensign in
        England. Peter Koppes recorded a single with his wife, calling
        themselves Melody- which did absolutely nothing at all because
        it was a really nice song called "Love Can't Imagine". Ploog's
        played drums on the Beasts Of Bourbon and Salamander Jim
        records, he's played gigs with them and the Saints. Oh, I
        played bass on a record called "The Immigrant Tango" which is
        by an Australian group called James Griffin & the
        Subterraneans- Marty played a bit of 12 string on it too; it's
        a six track EP.

        I recently discovered a 45 by the Crystal Set ("A Drop In The
        Ocean" SET 001, recently reissued on Red Eye in Australia)
        which has two songs credited to Kilbey-Maher..

        Russell Kilbey is my brother and he's the one credited on the
        Crystal Set, not me.  They're still playing around Sydney and
        have just done a new single which I helped to produce with Guy
        Gray who was one of the assistant engineers on "Heyday".  It's
        called "Benefit Of The Doubt" and I think it's amazing. Russell
        plays bass and a bit of harmonica and appears on "Seance" as a
        bit of an after thought.

        Some of my favorite songs are "The Unguarded Moment", "Field Of
        Mars", "Chrome Injury" "Constant In Opal" and "Electric Lash".
        Could you say a few words about these?

        "Unguarded Moment" is an albatross around our necks and I
        personally hate the fucking song but it's something we have to
        do live.  "Chrome Injury" was one of the first songs we ever
        recorded, it actually got us our demo deal. "Field Of Mars"
        isn't science fiction, it's a cemetery in Sydney where the man
        next door, who was a very good friend of mine, was buried and I
        wrote that song for him, Marty sung that one. "Constant In
        Opal" was based on an obvious pun. I suppose it's about trying
        to gratify yourself with wealth or looking for this elusive
        thing that you can never find. "Electric Lash" was written a
        long time before we recorded "Seance". It was written during
        the "Blurred Crusade" sessions.  We all had on these boots that
        had these plastic soles and you'd be walking along up at EMI on
        the nylon carpet and the bushes would bend over and give you an
        electric shock because of the static that was created. It was
        released here as a 45 but didn't do very much.

        I also like "Fly", who's the Tyrannosaurus Rex fan?

        We all are! I think I'm probably the biggest- my favorite
        albums being "Beard Of Stars" and the one simply called
        "T.Rex", which are two of the most influential albums on
        anything I've ever done. I knocked this one out quickly while I
        was waiting for the others- who were late. We added the bongos
        later, in the studio- it ended up sounding Tyrannosaurus Rex-y-
        it was never intended to sound like that, but I'm quite happy
        for people to see it that way.

        Most of your singles feature B sides that are not available
        elsewhere, I assume this is deliberate policy?

        Of curse! There are two arguments: you buy a single and you get
        an unavailable B side and you get value for money; the other
        one says you have to buy a single just to get a B side - so
        it's a bit of a dilemma. Normally we just record a whole bunch
        of songs and earmark the ones we like least for the B sides.

        Of the B sides I particularly like "Life Speeds Up".......... _

        That could have been a really good track but became a bit
        grandiose- which is sometimes a bit of a tendency of the
        Church- so didn't go onto the "Blurred Crusade" album.

        Regarding recording and production, how do you find working
        with Bob Clearmountain and Chris Gilbey?

        Bob Clearmountain is probably the best mixer and one of the
        best producers in the world and it was wonderful to work with
        him. Chris Gilbey was a "good ideas" man. We stopped working
        with them because Bob went on to bigger and better things-
        making billions of dollars in the US charts. We did the latest
        album with Peter Walsh he's definitely the best producer I've
        worked with so far- I'd like to get him for the next album.

        How do you see the future of the Church?

        I don't know about the future of the Church.  We're doing a
        tour of Australia (February / March), the new LP will be
        released in the USA and in the UK. I imagine there will be
        tours of the USA and UK this year, but anything goes- it all
        depends which way the wind blows.

With dates currently being set up in the USA and Europe, you should be
able to catch the Church on stage. It's been a long time since their
last UK shows, so I'm eagerly awaiting their two dates at the Marquee
in London in early April. I've just been told that the video for the
latest single, "Tantalized", has been added to the MTV play-list in the
USA so perhaps the Church's time has finally arrived; after five years
of great records they fully deserve all the success that this long
overdue exposure generates. "Heyday" is surely the most accessible of
the Church's records (but the lyrics remain as obscure as ever) and, to
quote the lyrics of "Tantalized", "Pandora's Box reveals a new
surprise, can't wait to see your eyes, now you've been tantalized". I'm
well tantalized! A heady mix of themes ancient ("Emerald haunt in
overdrive, nightmare descent into Jericho city") and space-age ("so now
we're cruising down this shuddering highway, with a dead sun shining on
my back"), thick with the mesmerizing guitars of Peter Koppes and Marty
Willson-Piper doe the trick, totally!

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