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SplendidZine interviews Steve Kilbey Print E-mail
Sunday, 05 December 2004

Interview copied from http://www.splendidezine.com/features/church/

...it was truly a pleasure to pick the brain of someone who's been making a rock band work for almost as long as I've been alive.

 
the church

One thing that you can say for sure about The Church is that they are anything but your typical rock band. They've been around for twenty-two years, released fourteen full-length records and several EPs, have been compiled for countless different anthologies and jumped from small indie labels to huge majors and back again. Throughout it all, they have produced a remarkably consistent body of work, all the while avoiding any sort of trend-hopping nonsense. This year, they've released what many consider to be their best album in years, the shimmering, delicate After Everything Now This. Coming on the heels of several rather lackluster efforts and one album of covers, the band sounds refreshed, revitalized and energized in 2002.

My friend Jim Biggs (who happens to be, among other things, quite the expert on all things Church-related) and I were granted (after much prodding and finagling) the unique opportunity to interview a member of The Church before their Seattle gig (which, incidentally, was fantastic). Going into the interview, we had no idea which member of the Church we'd be given to question; would the promoters simply foist the drummer on us (which, in this case, wouldn't have been as bad as it sounds, since drummer Tim Poweles is also the band's producer, and as the "new guy" in the band, would be sure to have a unique perspective on things)? Would they give us happy-go-lucky guitarist Marty Willson-Piper? Or, would they give up the goods and pony up enigmatic singer/bassist Steve Kilbey? As luck would have it, we ended up with Steve Kilbey; we had his (mostly -- apart from a few diversions involving raspberry lemonade and pea soup) undivided attention for a very entertaining forty-five minutes. Although Kilbey has a reputation for being a rather difficult interview, and things did get off to a slightly prickly start, he soon warmed up, and was surprisingly enthusiastic, candid and funny. After talking with him, you get the impression that his reputation for being difficult has more to do with the fact that he is not one to suffer fools gladly -- he's cynical, acerbic and very smart, and I suspect that some interviewers, not knowing what they were getting themselves into, could easily be intimidated by those qualities. However, cranky old bastard that Kilbey may be, we found him delightful, and it was truly a pleasure to pick the brain of someone who's been making a rock band work for almost as long as I've been alive.

? ? ? ? ? ? ?

Splendid (Jeremy Schneyer): How's the tour going so far?

Steve Kilbey: Good, really good.

Splendid (Jim Biggs): You've been in the states for what, a week now?

Steve Kilbey: Yeah.

Splendid (JB): And Europe before that?

Steve Kilbey: Yeah. Europe before that, States for a week, yep

Splendid (JS): Is there any place in particular that you're better received? Like Australia...

Steve Kilbey: I think America's probably the best

Splendid (JS): Pretty loyal fan base here?

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, Americans know how to be an audience better than anywhere else, I think. The country invented showbiz; people know how to be an audience...

Splendid (JS): That's interesting -- so people just kind of stand around...

Steve Kilbey: No, they're just more enthusiastic.

Splendid (JS): No, I mean in other countries.

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, they're more enthusiastic in America, they don't just stand around...

Splendid (JS): No no, I mean, like in other places.

Steve Kilbey: I know what you mean...and I'm saying they don't just stand around, but they don't go as wild as they do here.

Splendid (JS): Do you guys still enjoy putting on tours?

Steve Kilbey: Yes, love it. Love it.

Splendid (JS): Would you say it's sort of your...

Steve Kilbey: Raison d'etre?

Splendid (JS): Yeah.

Splendid (JB): Is it a lot different for you now than it used to be?

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, you know, you're not quite as reckless and destructive and all that kind of thing, but we still enjoy it.

Splendid (JB): I guess that would make it maybe a little less traumatic. You always hear musicians and artists talk about how rough touring is.

Steve Kilbey: Oh yeah, oh, the poor devils. No, you know, touring is a lot of fun. Of course there's some boring moments.

There is a painfully awkward pause.

Splendid (JB): (Gallantly resurrecting the conversation) The new record, After Everything -- I first started hearing about it over a year ago, that it was about to come out, and then there was some confusion about the label, at least in the States. Was that related at all? The the reason for the delay?

Steve Kilbey: We had a manager for a very short time; she became very enthusiastic and went and sacked our record company, umm...regardless of the fact that we had kind of a contract with them, that's what happened.

Splendid (JS): How did you guys get hooked up with Thirsty Ear?

Steve Kilbey: Unfortunately, we had another manager sign us to them, and then we sacked him and realized we were stuck with Thirsty Ear -- so, we'd really like to get off Thirsty Ear...

Splendid (JS): To a bigger label?

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, they're just useless, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Splendid (JS): Oh, OK. 'Cause I was wondering, having been on the huge major label...

Steve Kilbey: No, I don't want to be on a huge one, I just want to be on one who could kick a goal if... (He shouts at the waiter) RASPBERRY LEMONADE! (He whistles) Raspberry lemonade? Yeah, you know, they're just useless -- they couldn't kick a goal if you put the ball in front of them -- I don't want to be on "mega records", but I don't want to be on "ridiculously stupid records" either!

Splendid (JS): So, are there any particular labels that you'd like to work with?

Steve Kilbey: No, just somebody halfway decent! I don't know, Matador or somebody like that.

Splendid (JS): Like, a large indie.

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, yeah.

Splendid (JB): Are you stuck for a while with Thirsty Ear?

Steve Kilbey: I'm hoping this is the last one.

Splendid (JS): Yeah, I was looking at their web site today, and they seem to have a pretty diverse, eclectic lineup, with you guys being really the only really well-known band --

Steve Kilbey & Splendid: There's Teenage Fanclub --

Splendid (JS): -- and Cul de Sac, but for the most part it's mostly a lot of experimental stuff. Which is fine, but...

Splendid (JB): I'd also heard that you guys were considering maybe working on more new stuff, later this year?

Steve Kilbey: We are! We're making a new album this year.

Splendid (JB): Really! Would the label problems delay that, or...

Steve Kilbey: It doesn't affect us, it won't affect us. I hope this one doesn't come out on Thirsty Ear, but if it is, it's not going to stop me making it...you know?

AUDIO: After Everything

Splendid (JB): It amazes me how long you guys have been around, and been consistent, and remained sort of...artistically vital. Is there still a vast future in front of you, or do you just kind of take it one album at a time?

Steve Kilbey: I think our vast future's now limited by our age, but you know, you can't keep going for absolutely ever. We've got a lot of good records still left in us. I don't think we've exhausted what we can do; I think we've got -- we've always got this big kind of well we can dip into, I think, to make records.

Splendid (JS): A lot of people are saying that this is the best thing you've done in years...

Steve Kilbey: I agree with that, it's definitely our best album.

Splendid (JS): You think it's your best album period?

Steve Kilbey: Oh yeah, period, yeah, absolutely.

Splendid (JS): I definitely think it's the best sounding, and it was recorded on three continents, right? Over the course of a few years? Was that a problem? Obviously not, because it turned out really well, but did that ever become a hindrance, as far as picking it up and dropping it?

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, there was a bit of that, but I think each time we picked it up, we did a bit of revising, as well, and thought, "This isn't good enough, let's fix these other ones up," which we've never done before. It's always been that we've had a certain amount of time, and just gone in and done it all in one go, but this time we had the luxury of going back.

Splendid (JS): Did you consciously try to make it more cohesive, or did it just sort of turn out that way?

Steve Kilbey: Well, we recorded a ton of songs -- like, there were 20 songs in the end. It was kind of a strange process as to which songs actually ended up (on the record). It ended up being cohesive, but that was accidental. It could have been an incredibly diverse record. There were a lot of different songs, a lot of those stranger songs that... I dunno, it was just one of those lucky accidents where it all ended up sounding like that.

Splendid (JS): One of my other questions, which you just answered -- do you generally record a whole bunch of different songs and then pare it down from there?

Steve Kilbey: Yeah. It's not like we're like "oh this song will be the first song"; we record a whole lot of stuff, and we don't know where it's going to go.

Splendid (JS): You find out once it's done.

Steve Kilbey: Yeah.

Splendid (JS): It seems to me that lyrically, it's a lot more personal than most of the stuff you've done, especially in the '90s, like Hologram or Priest Aura. It seems to touch a lot more on personal experience rather than on fanciful myths, and stuff like that. Is that also sort of a conscious decision?

Steve Kilbey: No, no. I don't know -- I don't know why that is. If it is, I don't know why it is. I'm always trying to get a mix of the other thing and the personal thing -- trying to get them both in all the time. I guess sometimes I go one way and sometimes I go the other, and I guess this is one of those cases, but I wasn't like, "I want this to be so up close and personal." I'm sure it could go the other way the next time.

Splendid (JB): I've noticed, listening over the past few years, that Tim, the drummer -- it seems that the more he's gotten involved in the last couple of records, and it seems to have brought some focus. Do you think he's really brought something to it?

Steve Kilbey: Oh yeah, of course!

Splendid (JB): He was just barely there in the beginning, and it really seems that the more involved he's become...

Steve Kilbey: Oh yeah, he's completely involved, and he's got a whole lot of skills and outlook and stuff, and he wasn't there in the glory days, so he's divorced from all that, and he's into all this high-tech sort of stuff, like Pro Tools, so he did all of that as well.

Splendid (JS): How was the new record recorded? Was it done on Pro Tools, or...

Steve Kilbey: No, it was recorded like a band, and then when it was all finished, he took it away and played 'round with it on Pro Tools. It was pretty much a one man operation. It's hard for anyone else to get in on that.

Splendid (JS): So, did you do a lot of live recording?

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, yeah, we did. That's how it was recorded, and then...

Splendid (JS): And then overdub a bit?

Steve Kilbey: And then overdub a bit, and then he does his thing on the Pro Tools.

Splendid (JS): Adds the bells and whistles and stuff.

Steve Kilbey: Yeah.

Splendid (JB): How long have you guys known Tim? I got the impression that he goes back further.

Steve Kilbey: Oh, he does. He was in a band... We first met him in like '85, '86, when he was playing drums in a band that always used to play with The Church, and we got to know him. We were quite antagonistic towards each other --

Splendid (JB): Sort of competing bands?

Steve Kilbey: He was in a...I shouldn't really say. He was in kind of a New Romantic type band who always used to open for The Church, and our audience used to hate them, and there was a bit of sort of good-natured animosity that used to go on between the bands, and I think he always wanted to be in The Church, you know? You know when you see a mate with a really nice girlfriend, and you think "well, I'm never gonna get her, so I might as well be nasty to him!" (laughter) I think it was a bit like that -- as soon as he got the chance he dived in!

Splendid (JB): I see Peter still works with Richard (Ploog) from time to time on solo projects. Are you guys still in touch with Richard or Jay Dee (Daugherty)?

Steve Kilbey: Um, we see Jay Dee in New York, yeah. We saw Richard in Australia just before we were getting this tour together. Richard came into the studio, actually.

Splendid (JS): What's he doing these days?

Steve Kilbey: Uhhh...he's a gardener.

Splendid (JS): Alright, fair enough!

Steve Kilbey: It's a good place for him to be, I think.

Splendid (JS): Back to the lyrics to After Everything. I've read that you're sort of up on gnostic scriptures...

Steve Kilbey: I'm up on it?

Splendid (JS): Or studied them a little bit?

Steve Kilbey: I've dabbled around in sort of esoteric reading -- I'm no authority or anything like that. Not a Gnostic, certainly not. What do you mean, Christian Gnostic, or...

Splendid (JS): Have you read any of Philip K. Dick's stuff on the subject?

Steve Kilbey: No.

Splendid (JS): Okay. Well, it's sort of like a theme of dualism, like that the world that we live in, and the sort of other world...

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, I know what you mean, yeah...

Splendid (JS): Just the dualistic nature of life.

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, yeah.

Splendid (JS): I sort of see that theme popping up.

Steve Kilbey: Oh yeah, all the time.

Splendid (JS): So, is that sort of a favorite theme of yours?

Steve Kilbey: I don't know if it's a favorite theme; it just strikes me how you go 'round this world and see everyone fooling around with the mundane, and people sitting inside watching Court TV when there's this whole wonderful world out there that they could be experiencing. And we just focus our brains down to this stupid little bit of information when there's all this other stuff going on, like on every level!

Splendid (JS): Sure.

Steve Kilbey: And you only have to do a bit of yoga or take a bit of LSD or be a child, or whatever! Have a nervous breakdown...and suddenly you're plunged right into that world. This little sort of level we inhabit just doesn't mean shit to anything. It's nothing to any other beast or planet or fucking plant.

AUDIO: Chromium

Splendid (JS): Yeah, you take your perception of the world, and the perception of a schizophrenic person, for instance, which are completely and utterly different -- or not even so extreme, just take your perception and my perception, or whatever, and there's just so many different facets...

Steve Kilbey: There are. And we're in this one all the time. You know, I'm not; I'm trying to fucking escape as much as I can! I hate the mundane world, it fills me with horror! It's there, and music and lyrics and stuff can be one way out of it.

Splendid (JS): We talked a little bit before about personal versus writing about "other" things. When you write about things aside from yourself, do you find that you interject personal experiences into those songs as well?

Steve Kilbey: It's so hard to tell, but I think you're always getting a little bit of yourself in it. You know, even if I was to retell the story of the Civil War, there would probably have to be a bit of my...

Splendid (JS): Well, take "Radiance", for instance.

Steve Kilbey: Well, that's a real case of trying to present the facts, or present the position of a disinterested person who was there, who didn't really know what to make of it all... When I tell the stories, I try to have no axe to grind. It's not like at the end of that song, the overwhelming axe is "so there you go, believe in the Virgin Mary," but it also isn't saying "there you go, isn't the Virgin Mary a load of old bollocks?" It's kind of like "I'm not sure what happened", and that's kind of the point.

Splendid (JS): I think there's a great sense of that in that song, in that you're not passing judgment, you're just saying "this happened, and here it is" -- just laying it on the table. Are you familiar -- there's no real reason that you would be, but -- with a band called Pedro the Lion, from Seattle?

Steve Kilbey: (Groucho Marx-like) Never hoid of 'em!

Splendid (JS): The singer, he's Christian, and he sort of weaves Christian themes into his writing, but he never passes judgment. He never says "This is what you should believe," but rather, "This is a question," "This is a set or morals," or whatever, and just sort of presents it on the table. It's very much a thinking man's way of writing -- very admirable.

Steve Kilbey: I hate it when someone's always got some axe to fucking grind through everything.

Splendid (JS): Either pro or con...

Steve Kilbey: Either pro or con, yeah! If it's a satanic axe, or if it's a feminist one, or a communist one, I don't know! To me, it's tiresome.

Splendid (JS): Well, sure! That's why a lot of political punk bands just completely turn me off. It's like, why should I care what you have to say about this topic? I mean, maybe you're well read and intelligent and all this stuff, but I'm well-read and intelligent too, and I can make up my own fuckin' mind, you know? I just don't like to be preached at when I'm listening to music. But on the other hand, I really enjoy it when artists sort of take a stand, but just lay it on the table and say "here's something to think about".

Splendid (JB): You guys have really forged a distinctive sound that exists almost outside of anything else. There are lots of bands that have been imitators over the years, and lots of bands who have sounded similar to you. I was also thinking about it the other way -- it seems that you guys have forged a really successful, solid career, mostly out of the limelight. All the records do well, you have a very loyal fan base, and everyone has solo records like crazy. Is there ever any intent the other way, like when you're working on material and you think "this is just a little too pop, too mainstream?"

Steve Kilbey: When we're writing together and something starts sounding a bit "how's your father"... I don't mind being pop on my own terms, but I hate it to be so obvious. We definitely try to avoid that. I actually hate pop music -- someone in Sweden said to me the other day, "This is really good pop music!" -- and it made me not want to listen to it at all!

Splendid (JS): Well, different people have different definitions of pop music. Take a band like XTC, who you could definitely consider pop music --

Steve Kilbey: Sure, you could.

Splendid (JS): -- but they're also extraordinary songwriters and remarkably intelligent, and there's so much stuff going on...and yet they're still a "pop" band. So it's all in your definition.

Splendid (JB): Touching on the solo records, it seems like everybody's got something going on. The degree to which you guys are prolific just amazes me to no end. Does all of the side project and solo project work kind of help the Church to stay vital?

Steve Kilbey: Yeah. I think it lets everybody get their thing off their chest. It's hard, because we're a band that seems to put out a record only once every two years, and there's ten songs on that record. That doesn't leave a lot of room for people kind of knocking out songs all the time, does it? And now that it's so much easier to record, it's getting easier and easier to make a decent record cheaply and on the computer and stuff. I think there will just be more and more!

Splendid (JB): How's Karmic Hit going?

Steve Kilbey: The label?

Splendid (JB): Yeah.

Steve Kilbey: It's not really my label, it's my brother's label. It was mine, but he kind of took over cause I wasn't really doing very much. I dunno, it's doing alright. You know, we don't have Sony looking over their shoulders, saying "We've got to do something about Karmic Hit" (he laughs). But it's doing okay.

Splendid (JB): I heard more internet rumors that Unearthed might be reissued on Karmic Hit?

Steve Kilbey: Oh, I want them all to be reissued on Karmic Hit, since you can't get them! And I own them all, so might as well get 'em all out! But once again, he's being slack about getting it all together. That's the joy and the problem with working with your brother! Since it's your brother, you can't really go "Listen, you fucking idiot!" You gotta go "Hey...", and he's sort of like, "Yeah, yeah...", and three months later nothing happens! Like when I see this monkey from Cooking Vinyl, if I see him, I'm going to give him the worst time I possibly can, 'cause I don't like him at all! With your brother, you can't do that, 'cause you've all got to get together at Mum's for Christmas! (laughter)

Splendid (JS): How has the songwriting process evolved over the years? On the first records, the songs were credited to "Kilbey", and then around Heyday...

Steve Kilbey: It's pretty much the same as it's always been -- we stand around in a rehearsal room or a studio and jam and jam and jam, and I'm sort of the editor of the jam. I sort of go "look, I like this, let's keep working on this, this is a good idea," and then I guess everyone starts to imagine, "If this was a song, what will we do now, what can we do to make this more interesting?" Eventually we end up with this instrumental, and I take it away and put vocals on top of it. It's pretty much the same as it's always been.

Splendid (JS): So, say, Marty doesn't ever come in with an almost finished song and say "Here's a new song...?"

Steve Kilbey: A finished instrumental piece of music?

Splendid (JS): Sure.

Steve Kilbey: If I liked it, I'd go "We'll use it!" "Night Friends" was something that Peter kind of developed. There's no exclusivity on that. I mean, I still sometimes come up with things on my own, and people do come in with kind of half-finished things, but we'll usually work on it from scratch.

Steve's food arrives.

Steve Kilbey: (To waiter) Thanks! You guys don't mind if I eat, do you?

Splendid (JS): Of course not!

Steve Kilbey: I guess my pea soup never materialized...

Splendid (JS): You guys haven't been really based in Sydney for a long time, have you?

Steve Kilbey: No, no.

Splendid (JS): Did you ever consider yourselves as part of a scene there?

Steve Kilbey: Nope. We've always avoided scenes -- I don't think there's any value, 'cause you get attached to a whole grouping, then the thing goes down and you go with it, like the shoegazers. It's great to be a shoegazer for five minutes, then suddenly shoegazing dies, and you're gone with it! You know, grunge -- if you were grunge, great! Then suddenly grunge is gone...

Splendid (JS): Not necessarily a scene stylistically speaking, but more of --

Steve Kilbey: An Oz rock scene?

Splendid (JS): Well sort of... Like there are bands in Seattle who are all chums...

Steve Kilbey: No! We're not chums with any bastards! (Laughter) We're not! We don't like any of them! Obviously there's odd musicians we're friendly with and stuff, but there's none of that "Can we come over and borrow your equipment or rehearsal room" or something. No, none of that. That's a good thing if it works for you, but that never would have worked for us.

Splendid (JS): Why not?

Steve Kilbey: We've had to be fiercely...we're fiercely antagonistic towards anything...I don't know, it's like I was telling someone this morning, 'cause we were arguing, and he said, "Now look what you've done, you're not on any radio stations because they've canceled them all." It's like ever since I first learned to play guitar, someone's been telling me what to do with my music. Maybe it was the guy who used to book all the gigs in Canberra saying "You'll never get anywhere. I don't like your band. You've got to go and play these sort of songs." In the end you built up this sort of wall of animosity towards the whole world! The good thing about that is it sort of holds the band together...

The waiter brings Steve's pea soup.

Steve Kilbey: (To waiter) Ah, you lovely man! Thank you! (To us) So, in the beginning we had this whole wall of hatred towards everybody else that kept us rooted in ourselves. It's hard to describe -- it's like we didn't have things we all liked together, we had things we all hated together! It's true, hate can get you through bad times as well as love can, you know?

Splendid (JS): (laughter) I was going to ask you about the last verse to "Night Friends", which you very neatly encapsulated in that last statement...

Steve Kilbey: Well, it is strange, both of those emotions will get you through -- love will get you through and hate will get you through, but occasionally you need the other one, you know what I mean? Sometimes you need both those fucking extremes! In this world love really isn't just enough, but nor is hate, because eventually, if we hadn't loved our music, just being a bunch of hateful nasty bastards wouldn't have gotten us anywhere either!

Splendid (JS): Do you feel that you have any peers at this point?

Steve Kilbey: It seems like we've kind of gone off into some place where we're not really... Peers is a funny word... I guess U2 and REM are our contemporaries, but they're like playing the megadome and they're hugely famous and popular and all that, so it would be kind of a bit vainglorious of me to tell you that our peers are REM and U2. But I think musically...I don't know, you're the journalist, you should decide who our peers are, I don't know who they are!

Splendid (JS): I would have a hard time with that, as well as you did, since you've been doing your own thing for so long.

Steve Kilbey: We've tried to! We've tried to do our own thing, but there's always some bastard who wants to interfere!

Splendid (JS): (laughter) that's the way the world works, it seems!

Steve Kilbey: Why is that, do you think?

Splendid (JS): 'cause everybody always thinks that they know best!

Splendid (JB): Wasn't it Kierkegaard who said "Those that don't have always try to bring down those that do?"

Steve Kilbey: Absolutely!

Splendid (JB): You said you feel pretty antagonistic towards a lot of artists. Are there any artists out there who you feel are particularly interesting or vital?

Steve Kilbey: Yep. For example, Jeff Buckley was just on (the bar's stereo). I love Jeff Buckley. I thought he was a real...most musicians you meet are sort of a little bit of talent and a lot of brain, like they've figured out what they can do. Jeff Buckley was like pure talent! He was like this purely...you know what I mean? Not many rock musicians you'll meet you'd say that they were truly gifted, but he really was. I like Goldfrapp, Sigur R?s... I dunno, probably a whole lot of people I should think of that I can't. It's also hard. When I was growing up, I was more impressed with people, like when you get to my age, you're not so... Like the band who's supporting us tonight might be brilliant, for all I know, but since I'm already sort of old and...

Splendid (JS): Jaded?

Steve Kilbey: Jaded. They're not going to affect me the same way as they would have when I was 18, and I would have gone "Wow!"

AUDIO: Invisible

Splendid (JS): Fair enough. You haven't by chance heard of a band from Sydney called Glide?

Steve Kilbey: Of course I have! He gets a mention on my solo album. We talk about William from Glide! Yeah, of course I know Glide! He's dead now... Yep.

Splendid (JS): I just ask because...

Steve Kilbey: They were good!

Splendid (JS): Oh, they were brilliant! I've been reading about them for some time, but their records are a bit hard to come by, as you might imagine. I just recently got my hands on some stuff...and what you said about Jeff Buckley and pure talent, I can see that in him.

Steve Kilbey: In William?

Splendid (JS): Yeah. His songwriting is so...I sat down with my guitar and tried to learn some of his songs, and it was very, very difficult! I don't know if it was alternate tunings or what have you, but even the song structures are so amazing -- it's stuff that you wouldn't necessarily notice when you were casually listening to the record, but then you sit down and try to learn one of his songs, and you're like, "There's a verse here, and another part, and another part, then back to the verse, then another part, then onto the chorus, and it doesn't ever go back to the verse..." -- and it's like, "What the fuck was he doing?" But it sounds amazing!

Steve Kilbey: Yeah...

Splendid (JB): You just mentioned how you were blown away by bands when you were 18 -- who were those bands for you, that made you want to just pick up a guitar and say "this is what I want to do!"?

Steve Kilbey: Well, I was already dabbling 'round with the guitar, but when I heard... My life changed one day. I was sort of into... I mean, I loved Dylan and the Beatles and all those people, and they're quite seminal -- they're the things I would always go back to -- but one day I walked past the record shop and looked in the window and there was a T. Rex album cover. I don't know if you've seen it, the one with the white faces?

Splendid (JB): Oh yeah.

Steve Kilbey: It's just called T. Rex, and I was like. "I've got to get this record!" Got it home, and it was like the whole universe opened up -- I didn't realize rock music could do what this guy was doing with it! And you know, I just knew every note, I knew every percussive sound, every guitar string, every word, every breath, every, you know, "mrrroooww" at the end of the songs, and I just studied it. I just loved it. I didn't even know I was studying -- I just listened to it. The records he made shortly after that -- he made one or two that were good, and then it was just garbage. Unless you get that record. My brother used to say "I don't know why you always go on about T. Rex!" Then I gave him that record one day, and he said "Okay, I understand," 'cause it's an amazing record!

Splendid (JB): Does that kind of stuff still inspire you, or is that inspiration sort of internal and self-perpetuating now?

Steve Kilbey: Yes, it is, that's exactly right, where The Church sort of inspires The Church. The hardest thing in rock music is to get your own schtick. I lived in Canberra, which is a little town in Australia, the capitol of Australia, a couple hundred thousand people. There were millions of bands, and they would sing so many amazing songs, and I could never hope to be as good as any of the players, 'cause there were so many guys who could play bass. I still couldn't play bass like these guys could then! So it seemed like that wasn't the way to go. It's like you've got to get this sort of take on it...

Splendid (JS): You sort of have to develop a niche for yourself and develop a signature sound, that people can recognize, and say "Oh, that's Steve Kilbey", or whoever.

Steve Kilbey: Exactly! And once you've got that, then you don't need anything else, I think. Once you get a good niche, like we have.

Splendid (JS): As long as people like it!

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, as long as people like it. Once you've got your niche, you can explore your niche forever, and you can be self-referential. It doesn't really matter what happens now, 'cause we've got our schtick, and we can plow that furrow til the cows come home!

Splendid (JS): Are you content to do that? To just say "This is The Church and this is the way The Church sounds, and that's good enough?"

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, but the Church has included in its niche, in its schtick, the ability to be sort of aggressive and experimental and change within that -- our basic tenet, I guess, is to have some quality. I think it all just gets down to if you do something that you like yourself, and if that's always your first criteria -- "Do I like this?" "Yes." -- well, then maybe other people will. If you go, "Well, I don't like it, but I'm sure some other sucker out there is gonna buy it," I think that's where things start going wrong.

Splendid (JS): Sure. For me, anyway, it's really hard to tell, especially at first, if I like a song I've written. I usually need some kind of outside perspective, whether it be a member of my band, or my girlfriend, or whatever, to say "oh, that's great!" or "Oh, that's horrible! What the hell were you thinking?". For me, it can be hard to tell, but I'm sure that it comes much easier once you've been doing it for 20-odd years...

Steve Kilbey: It's nice hearing people say "Oh, that's a good song, I like that," but you really know -- you know in your heart of hearts if it's a good song or not. You don't really need anyone else to tell you -- that's how I feel. I feel that whatever song I write, I wouldn't write it if it wasn't reasonably good, 'cause I wouldn't pursue it. I wouldn't keep going with it. So...I dunno, what was the question again?

Splendid (JS): But then again, you've sort of disavowed a lot of your old stuff...

Steve Kilbey: Well, not really, just one or two songs that were terrible, and that didn't pass that test of "Do I like it." Just those terrible songs, not the whole lot.

Splendid (JS): I've seen you, in interviews and on fan sites, be very critical of a lot of stuff you've put out.

Steve Kilbey: Well, I think that's healthy.

Splendid (JS): I agree.

Steve Kilbey: It wasn't good enough, you know? It never realized its potential.

Splendid (JS): Was it good enough at the time?

Steve Kilbey: I guess I wouldn't be criticizing it now if it was! It's so hard to tell. It was so long ago. I never thought I'd be in the position to have something that was 22 years old, and be thinking "What do I think about it now?" It was so long ago -- who knows what I was thinking! I think we've always been groping towards trying to do something good. I think at the very worst, we were always trying to do something good, you know -- we weren't just trying to knock out any old thing just for the sake of it.

Splendid (JS): Sure. Well, if you're a serious artist, or consider yourself to be a serious artist, you're always going to reach for that goal that you have in mind...

Steve Kilbey: But that's the thing about Marc Bolan, because it seemed like he was, then all of the sudden, as soon as he got success and stuff, he stopped! He stopped reaching, he really did! He just was like, "Oh, I'm a star, I can knock out any old garbage and they'll still buy it." But it didn't work that way. I think it's a real glaring example.

Splendid (JS): Yeah, you can name any band, like the Stones for the past 20 years...

Steve Kilbey: You can name almost anybody. In fact, I think Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan -- and Dylan has only turned it around just in the nick of time with those last two albums, which people are saying are actually okay.

Splendid (JS): Or Neil Young...

Steve Kilbey: Or Neil Young. He can be dodgy as well.

Splendid (JS): But he's always doing what he wants to do. He's saying "Fuck it, I'm going to do this bizarre electronic vocoder thing," in 1983, or whenever it was that that record (Trans) came out. Everybody panned it and said it was awful, but now, ten or twenty years later, people are saying "Wow, he was doing this way back when, and now it's coming back into vogue again." People are realizing that he was just way ahead of his time.

Steve Kilbey: That's one thing you've got to admire about Neil Young -- he does what he wants to do. I admire that. You can't say that about Mick Jagger... God knows who he thinks likes what he does. He can't like it, and nobody else does either! (laughter)

Splendid (JS): Well, somebody must, 'cause they keep buying the records.

Steve Kilbey: I don't know, I think they kind of buy it out of...

Splendid (JS): Loyalty?

Steve Kilbey: Like "I've got the new Stones album." "Yeah? You listened to it?" "Oh, I don't like it. But I've got it."

Splendid (JS): "Just keep buying them. They keep puttin' em out, so I'll keep buyin' 'em."

Splendid (JB): I had a couple more questions about rumors of stuff on the way... I heard a rumor that there was an anthology coming possibly in the next year or so.

Steve Kilbey: (in jest, we think) What is an anthology?

Splendid (JB): Like a collection...the way I heard it, it was maybe four CDs, with some rare tracks.

Steve Kilbey: Well, there's so many best-of-the-Churches out there, I'm sort of loath to do any more. There are already too many.

Splendid (JB): And you mentioned the solo records that Karmic Hit may be re-releasing. There's a fair amount of Church material that's hard to come by; is that something that you guys would like to have see the light of day again?

Steve Kilbey: Oh yeah, EMI in Australia, who owns all our earlier records, is planning to re-release them all, and I think that's great. I think it's good, but I want them to come out as they were, I don't want this --

Splendid (JB): Extra tracks?

Steve Kilbey: Well, if they could dig some up. I don't think there are any extra tracks that are worth having!

Splendid (JS): Well, what you consider to be worth having and what a rabid Church fan would consider to be worth having are probably two very different things!

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, but it's a bit like the thing where a magician does a trick, and someone in the audience goes "Show us how you did it", and then the whole audience goes "Yeah! show us!" -- they think they want to see how it was done, but as soon as they see it, they'll be disappointed. So the audience doesn't always know, and rabid fans don't always know, what's best for them!

Splendid (JS): (Much laughter) I think that's definitely true!

Steve Kilbey: I mean, if there was good stuff there, it wouldn't be languishing in obscurity -- we'd be trying to get it out! So the stuff that they're trying to get out I don't think they should be having. I mean, my daughters are huge Britney Spears fans. I've got twin daughters, eleven, and they've got this conversation, where there's someone ringing up Britney -- it's like a whole CD of this conversation, someone ringing her up, and it's just silliness, but they love it 'cause it's Britney Spears! I'm sure there are equivalent fans of the Church who'd do that as well!

Splendid (JB): I also heard that there was a lyrical collection coming.

Steve Kilbey: Yep, yep. We're going to try to get all the lyrics together.

AUDIO: Tristesse

Splendid (JB): What was the drive behind that? It seems that Church lyrics have always been kept a little close to the vest, and there's always speculation about this and that, and what it all may mean.

Steve Kilbey: I talked about it with my brother, and he outlined a way in which we could do it and it would be us having control of it rather than a publishing company going "We're going to put out a book of your lyrics." It'll be our way of doing exactly what we want to do.

Splendid (JS): Has there been a reason, historically, that you haven't included lyrics with the records?

Steve Kilbey: It's getting back to that thing -- what do people want. I realized that the records where I didn't have lyric sheets, I was enjoying them more than the ones that did have them. Even though initially, you think, "Great, I've got the lyrics! I can sit down and listen to it," one day I realized that actually being able to see the lyrics on the paper wasn't as much fun as knowing them, having to know them, know them with the music.

Splendid (JS): And maybe know them wrong?

Steve Kilbey: And maybe know them wrong, but that's the lovely ambiguity that's in rock 'n' roll, really -- a wrong lyric can mean more to you than what the real lyric was!

Splendid (JS): And then you find out the real thing, and you say "Oh, he was saying that?" Well, that destroys the whole thing!

Steve Kilbey: Exactly.

Splendid (JS): So why put out the anthology, then?

Steve Kilbey: The book? Um...(leans in close, whispering) we're gonna make a bit of money off it.

Splendid (JS): (laughter all around) Fair enough, can't argue with that!

Steve Kilbey: My brother did the sums for me, and we realized that it could be fairly lucrative. And I thought, "Well, getting them all together in a book isn't a bad thing. It's not like having a lyric sheet on the album."

Splendid (JS): Yeah, it's a different feel.

Splendid (JB): Almost more like poetry as opposed to lyrics.

Steve Kilbey: In a way. Still, I guess in one fell swoop I'm going to wipe out all that progress I've made.

Splendid (JB): All the speculation.

Steve Kilbey: Yeah, yeah. I guess it just feels like the right time to do it. You know, like you may never have parachuted in your whole life, and then one day someone asks you if you want to go parachuting with them, and you say "Yeah!" It's the right time.

Splendid (JB): The Refo:mation album...it's three quarters of the band. Was it a side project, or does it actually fit somewhere in the...

Steve Kilbey: Scheme of things?

Splendid (JB): Yeah.

Steve Kilbey: Um, no, not really. We had this studio and everyone was hanging around, and we thought, "Wouldn't it be fun just to knock something out for the hell of it?" Which we did. No rehearsal, really done quick, recorded quick, sung quick, mixed quick...

Splendid (JB): How long did it take?

Steve Kilbey: Uhhh... A week or two, I guess.

Splendid (JB): Wow.

Steve Kilbey: I can't really even remember doing it. It was that quick, sort of random sort of thing.

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 19 December 2004 )
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