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Goldmine magazine does a good biography circa 1988 Print E-mail
Monday, 01 August 1988
  Source: Goldmine Magazine (Iola, WI, USA)
   Issue: 211, Volume 14, No.18
    Date: Aug, 1988 
 Subject: Biography - The Church

    BY Michael Heatley

If AC/DC lays claim to being Australia's top international hard- rock
band, the Church represents the continent's softer pop side. The group
was formed in Sydney in 1980 by British- born singer- songwriter Steve
Kilbey, who hailed from Canberra, and guitarist Peter Koppes. Their
influences were predominantly British glam-rock (T.Rex, Cockney Rebel)
and American folk- rock (Dylan, Big Star and, especially, the 12-
string guitar of the Byrds). They played a few club dates with drummer
Nick Ward before Marty Willson-Piper appeared from England to pick up
lead guitar.

The Church's first Parlophone single, "She Never Said," failed to sell,
but the second, "The Unguarded Moment," remains their most requested
track. A combination of electric 12- string guitars and typically
obscure lyrics from Kilbey and occasional co-writer-cum- backing
vocalist Michele Parker, it reached the Australian Top 10 and made
their name.

Boosted by the hit single, the Church's first album, Of Skins And
Hearts, went gold Down Under in 1981 before personality clashes saw
drummer Ward replaced by Richard Ploog; the lineup remained constant
ever since. Meanwhile, the band put out a double single, "too Fast For
You," three tracks of which replaced others on the U.S. version of the
Capital LP titled simply The Church. England got a less modified
version under the same title with just one track change and the new
line-up on the cover.

The album employed EMI A&R man Chris Gilbey. who'd spotted the band, as
producer and Bob Clearmountain as mixer.  (Clearmountain's sure touch
later helped Springsteen and Huey Lewis onto the radio.) Clearmountain
co-produced 1982's The Blurred Crusade, which is still regarded by many
as the Church's most complete album. The single "Almost With You" was
an Australian hit.

The group then took on side projects: Kilbey wrote a near-hit for
Ignatius Jones (former frontman of Jimmy and the Boys), whose "Like A
Ghost" proved popular in the U.S.  gay dance clubs in 1982, and played
along-side Willson-Piper with James Griffin and the Subterraneans.
Ploog played drums with the saints and others, and Koppes and his wife
recorded as Melody. More seriously, the group's future seemed in the
balance and they were in danger of losing their record contract: the
1982 sing songs EP was supposed to prove they still had commercial
potential. Four self composed "hit singles" were added to a cover of
Paul Simon's "I Am A Rock" for a hard- to- find record which is much
prized by fans.

As if uncaring about their record sales, the group went back
underground in early 1983 with the densely layered sound of  Seance.
The following year saw them turn their backs on albums altogether in
favor of two EPs - Remote Luxury and Persia - only to find Warner
Brothers sticking them together as the Remote Luxury album after
signing the group in the United States as part of the new guitar
movement and finding they had no new long- playing product to promote.
College radio took up their cause, and a U.S.  tour supporting Echo and
the Bunnymen honed their stage act to a hitherto undreamed- of
tightness, though they lost some of their subtlety in the process.

The groups progress in Europe was not helped by being signed to a small
French label, Carrere, so big things were expected from 1986's Heyday
when it found U.K. release on EMI (though still on Warners in the
United States). It was the first album to feature lyrics in the
packaging, and in an unusual departure, most of the music was band-
credited rather than to Kilbey alone. The result, Kilbey claimed, was
"the loosest, warmest album we could make in a week or two of
spontaneous creativity." Surprisingly, Willson-Piper (who lives in
Sweden) left during the band's promotional tour spell in London and
auditions were announced for a replacement, but he returned to the fold
just as quickly as he had let it.

Despite the differing albums, double singles and 12- inchers, the
group's rarest recording is probably a flexidisc they gave to British
fanzine Bucketfull Of Brains in 1986 entitled "Warm Spell."

As the group took another sabbatical during 1987, Steve Kilbey had a
chance to get some of his more personal songs out of his system. He'd
already released a solo single, "Asphalt Eden," and followed it with
Unearthed, released in the United States on the independent Enigma
label in the summer of 1987. It gained appreciative reviews if not
platinum sales. Koppes cut a mini-album, When Reason Forbids, and a
full- length LP, Manchild & Myth, for the Australian Session label,
while Willson-Piper recorded his own long-player, In Reflection. More
recently, he released a new solo album, Art Attack.

When the Church came back with this year's U.S. chart album Starfish,
it was on another new label, Arista, and with new co-producers in Greg
Landanyi and Waddy Wachtel.  Another American, Greg Kuehn, guested on
keyboards, as he had on several previous occasions. As in their stage
act, guitarists Koppes and Willson-Piper were allowed a song apiece on
which to show their vocal and songwriting talents, but Kilbey still
dominated in a cool yet very much more commercial sound exemplified by
their first U.S. hit single, "Milky Way."

Like R.E.M., the Church invites comparison with groups of yesteryear in
their use of identifiable building blocks of sound. Now in their eighth
year of development, they can claim to have made their own distinctive
mark - and finally have the commercial recognition to go with it.

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