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Marty talks about The Church's approach to music with Print E-mail
Thursday, 11 March 2004

Originally published by at

Protestant Principles
The Church doesn't care about success -- or having sex with Britney.
Let's get one thing straight: the Church is touring America in support of the album Forget Yourself. It's not trotting out fan favorites, Las Vegas-cheeseball style. It's also not building an entire set around its lone U.S. Top-40 hit, 1988's rainy-day classic "Under the Milky Way."

In fact, remove your mind completely from the retro gutter. Don't even think about labeling the Church as an '80s one-hit wonder cashing in on a sliver of fame or as a dinosaur that has stuck around way past its expiration date.

"We don't make boring old bourgeois music," guitarist and vocalist Marty Willson-Piper says from an Atlanta hotel room, his Liverpool accent brimming with firm conviction. "I tell you who makes boring old bourgeois music -- the people who control the radio stations. They're trying to cater for bland tastes. I have no problem with people who want to listen to that kind of music. But give us a break! Let people listen to other things, too."

And no, he's not talking about coquettish strumpets cooing "I'm a Slave for U."

"Really, who would want to have sex with Britney Spears?" Willson-Piper asks. "She's a young, silly girl with too much money. You want somebody with a bit of experience and depth. When I see Britney Spears, I just want to buy her an ice cream and pat her on the head."

Those unfamiliar with the Church tend to condescend to the venerable quartet in much the same way. People ignore the band's two-decades-plus career and seventeen studio albums to focus on "Milky Way" -- or else laud the latest Church album as a clich?d "return to form." But unlike the fellow moody souls in Echo and the Bunnymen and the Psychedelic Furs, the Church has never lost its form, disbanded or stopped making music just because the radio dubbed Limp Bizkit king of the airwaves.

In fact, Forget Yourself does anything but disregard the band's talent for crafting intelligent neopsychedelia. Bass player and vocalist Steve Kilbey's drowsy voice still sounds poetic, ringing chords shine on "Telepath," and "Appalatia" soars with shoegazing grace. The album's drifting textures also possess a decidedly rougher electric edge, most obviously on the distressed riffage marking "Sealine" and "Lay Low" or on the insistent squiggle-prog of "Song in Space."

Willson-Piper admits that Yourself's live feel makes it looser than 2002's atmospheric After Everything Now This, but he balks at the notion that the disc's rawness somehow makes it more relevant.

"I'm a bit confused as to why people think that if you do something loose that it's vital," he says. "It's funny, the last time we had a successful song on the radio -- we know those days are gone and we're just not interested in them at all -- I remember doing interviews back then and people saying, 'Wow, so, the Church. Great album.'

"I used to say, 'Yeah, but what about the five albums we made before this one that were all great albums that you didn't like, or buy, or know or care about?'" he continues. "And this is the same situation. Oh, suddenly we're vital because we're loose? Do we really have to be loose to be vital? Can't we be sometimes loose, sometimes controlled, sometimes experimental?"

Actually, the Church's career progression encompasses all of these things and more. The band was slightly ahead of the curve from the moment it formed in Australia in 1980. The tangy jangle of its debut, Of Skins and Heart, and the follow-up, The Blurred Crusade, predated the halcyon days of R.E.M. and the paisley revival spearheaded by the Three O'Clock and Dream Syndicate.

The bagpipes-laced, ethereal "Milky Way" also stemmed from dark, shimmering strums of keyboard-rich rock like that found on mid-'80s Church albums Remote Luxury and Heyday. But despite turning out consistently solid records in the 1990s -- such as 1998's dreamy, textured Hologram of Baal -- the Church avoided mainstream success even as the widening appeal of indie rock shoved many less-talented bands into the spotlight.

Not that failing to become platinum pinups mattered much to the band.

"With the Church, you've got to understand that we've always been trying to make decent music for the right reasons," Willson-Piper says. "If it comes out controlled or it comes out loose or it comes out as a jam session, or if it comes out as us sitting around slowly constructing songs, it doesn't make any difference. If people decide that the latest way that we've chosen to do it is the way that fits into the zeitgeist, well, fair enough. Go ahead and think what you like. But we will always make records based on our own system."

That system includes swapping instruments with impunity on Yourself -- drummer and producer Tim Powles plays guitar on a track, Willson-Piper picks up the drumsticks on another -- and satisfying the members' extra-band muses. For instance, the prolific Willson-Piper recently played solo gigs in Europe; released an album by his side project, Noctorum; and collaborated on an album with ex-Fall guitarist and vocalist Brix Smith, due sometime this year.

Willson-Piper calls the Church a "little creative factory," an apt description for the band's seemingly endless supply of ideas and the driving force behind its fierce autonomy.

"You should never do what anybody else wants," Willson-Piper says. "You should only do what you have decided is the best thing for you to do. As soon as somebody says, 'You know, you really should be doing that, or you should really start looking like that' -- no way. We're not interested.

"'Milky Way' is a song that we play. But we only play it 'cause we like it. We don't play hardly any other songs that have been popular over the years. If you want the hits, go see Flock of Seagulls."

But Flock of Seagulls only had, like, four hits, didn't it?

"Well," Willson-Piper says with a laugh, "that's three more than us." | originally published: March 11, 2004

The letters page of the next issue, April 1 2004 had the following comments.

Pray Anything
Church and great:
Thank you for getting it! Annie Zaleski's "Protestant Principles" (March 11) is a solid write-up on a brilliant band that exists and flourishes beneath the radar.

The Church have made uncompromising music for two decades, and her article captured their ethic as well as one can in a few column inches. I was very happy to learn that they were stopping in Kansas City on this tour. In the past, I have had to travel to see them. I'm hoping that the paper will cover the show itself. They are an incredible live band -- so incredible that I am hosting several guests traveling from other parts of the country to see the band.

If you are interested in the close-knit, worldwide online following that has helped sustain the fanbase, check out, where I have posted a link to Zaleski's article.
Michael Black

Goin' to praiseland: I wanted to comment on the interview done with Marty Willson-Piper of the Church. First off, I think it's fantastic that the Pitch even gave a thought to the Church. Many kudos.

Fact is, the Church has been ahead of the curve (as stated in the article), with its whole career being mimicked by bands like Radiohead. Thom Yorke even said in an interview that he waits to see what Marty and the gang are doing before they begin writing. With that said, great interview!
John Underwood
Edison, New Jersey

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 28 December 2004 )
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