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Tim speaks about Hologram of Baal and the band's history Print E-mail
Friday, 18 September 1998
Originally published at

A new wave for the Church

Classic '80s band from Australia returns to the states to stir old memories and create new ones

by Jim Harrington

The Church scored one of the signature tunes of the late '80s with the moody, textured "Under the Milky Way" single from the platinum-selling "Starfish" album.

But that's about all most of America remembers of this atmospheric rock band. Many folks may be surprised to hear the band is still together and on tour, touching down at The Edge in Palo Alto on Monday.

But that view, Church drummer Tim Powles reminds us, is very egocentric. In their home country of Australia, the Church has remained a relevant band despite going through some lineup changes. Now the band is back to the states gigging behind a fine new work, "Hologram of Baal," and ready to remind us Americans what the Aussies never forgot.

"In America, we are probably seen as an '80s band," Powles guesses correctly. "Whereas (in Australia), we were rocking right through."

The Church got its start in 1980 as a trio consisting of drummer Nick Ward, guitarist Peter Koppes and singer/bassist Steve Kilbey. Guitarist Marty Wilson-Piper soon joined the band, in time for the release of a four-track demo tape that was impressive enough to land them a publishing deal with ATV/Northern Songs and a record deal with EMI Australia.

The band's first album, "Of Skins and Heart," was released in 1981, and the single, "The Unguarded Moment," made some noise, reaching the Top 20 of the Australian charts. The album quickly established a new sound in what was, at the time, a fairly fluid scene down under.

"With its murmured melodies and atmospheric instrumental arrangements, this Sydney quartet sounds little like such Oz-rock contemporaries as Midnight Oil, Divinyls or the Angels, having far more in common with the sound of Liverpool neo-psychedelic acts like Echo and the Bunnymen or Paisley Underground groups like L.A.'s Rain Parade," J.D. Considine wrote in the Rolling Stone Album Guide. "The resemblance isn't entirely coincidental; "Of Skins and Heart" introduces the Church as a typical early '80s new-wave outfit, replete with adenoidal vocals (courtesy Steve Kilbey) and jittery melodies."

Ward was replaced by teenage drummer Richard Ploog before the album's release, and that lineup would remain intact for eight years. "The Blurred Crusade" and "Seance" followed in the next two years, and the Church built upon its home following while also making inroads in Europe. In 1985, the band made its first noise on the American charts with the release of "Heyday," which included the hard-rocking "Tantalised" (an in-concert favorite to this day). But it would be 1988's "Starfish" that would take the band to the next level. Powered by the sublime "Under the Milky Way," the album would go on to sell more than a million copies in the states alone.

It's "Starfish" for which the band is best known. And, Powles says, the band never tires of playing the hit song.

"Nah. Not that one," he says. "It's too easy, that one. It just plays itself."

After "Starfish," things began to unwind for the Church. Internal band tensions led to Ploog's departure (he was replaced on drums by Jay Dee Daugherty), and the band fell out of the international spotlight. By the early '90s, Koppes had announced he was quitting the band, and things seemed to be about wrapped up for this once-famous outfit. A new creative force, Powles, joined on, and the Church released "Sometime Anywhere" in 1994. But something was clearly missing without Koppes' signature guitar leads, and 1996's "Magician Among the Spirits" clearly suffered from his absence.

Luckily, he wasn't absent for long. In 1997, Koppes reunited with the Church, and the band undertook a short though successful tour of Australia. Now, re-energized, the band--which consists of Powles, Kilbey, Wilson-Piper and Koppes--is looking to win back fans with "Hologram of Baal."

"This album is kind of the return of the full-blown sound of the original band, with my influence, really," Powles said.

What: The Church in concert; Ghostlike Sun and the Chant are also on the bill

Where: The Edge, 260 California Ave., Palo Alto

When: Doors open 7 p.m. Monday.

How much: Tickets are $10 in advance.

Information: Call 324-EDGE. 

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