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Steve talks to Whammo.com.au about Forget Yourself Print E-mail
Monday, 15 December 2003
The Whammo website says they're taking a break, but this interview turned up in Google's cache.

THE CHURCH - THE WHAMMO INTERVIEW - DECEMBER 15, 2003

I blame The Church for a lot of my teenage depression. That?s right, I?ve held a grudge all these years. When I was informed of my appointment with vocalist/bass player, Steve Kilbey, I started rehearsing my vengeful rant: ?Steve, do you know how crap I looked in paisley shirts?! Do you understand how uncomfortable stove-pipes were under the unforgiving Gold Coast sun?! Can you imagine how goofy I looked in pointy shoes?!? Oh, the horror. But the only reason I opted for an impractical psychedelic image as a teen was the impact this act had on my impressionable mind. The Unguarded Moment was an anthem for unhappy teenagers (are there any happy ones?). Its laconic cool not only whispered ?I understand how you feel?, its intelligent but cynical attack also pre-empted the sentiment of a fledgling slacker generation. I was hooked. The Church was my favourite band, bar none. Hey Day is still in my Top 5 albums of all time and now, 18 years later (ouch!) the new LP, Forget Yourself, has reignited my love for this seminal Australian act. It was the obsessive American fanbase that inspired this feature. Ever since Under The Milky Way took its place among the most enduring hits of the 80s, The Church have not only gained passionate followers around the globe; they?ve also done something very rare: they?ve retained them. The day of the interview loomed in the distance. I thought: ?how can I possibly sate my curiosity with a 20 minute interview? and the most terrible question: ?what if he?s a wanker?? That would have really shattered me, but I had no need to fret; Steve Kilbey is a fascinating conversationalist, unique talent and ? much to my relief ? a great bloke...

Whammo: I?ve been around for the whole time the band?s been in existence and it looks like the line-up of the band is as strong as it?s ever been.
Steve: A band?s like any relationship. It goes through changes all the time; evolving and always going one step forward and two steps back. At the moment, we feel pretty strong and united but anything can come along and defeat you at any moment. It?s like life. I can do an interview and say ?I feel great, I feel really good? and then you could read in the paper tomorrow that I?ve died of a heart attack. It?s in flux all the time. You can feel amazing about things. You can feel like everything?s under control. I remember, about three weeks ago, I was feeling on top of the world and I looked at one of The Church websites and it was some bad reviews. It completely floored me in about ten minutes. I thought ?God, what was I feeling so good about?? You know what I mean?
Whammo: Totally. It surprises me that a review can still effect you in that way.
Steve: It can; especially a review by your fans; the people who are talking about you on their own Church chat pages. It?s funny. I can read an excellent review and go ?ah good, an excellent review? and not dwell on it any more or I can read one bad review and I?ll go home and think about it for weeks.
Whammo: The bad review surprises me because I think that Forget Yourself is a very strong album.
Steve: Yeah, people always find something that they?re not going to like about it. They?ve been pretty good so far ? the reviews ? so I shouldn?t complain really.
Whammo: You?re happy with the songwriting on the album?
Steve: I think, for me, I was in a really good place. It was all coming pretty easy for me. I was enjoying it and really looking forward to it every day. I?m really pleased with that aspect. I?m pleased with the way the band wrote these songs together and each person could submerge themselves in the band and not worry so much about his individual glory; become more of a team player. I think that?s something we?re all still learning. Like a football team, the most important thing to do is play together. There?s always room for losing yourself in the music.
Whammo: You?re all prolific solo artists so I?d imagine that the side-projects are important to provide a release for ideas that may not be suited to The Church as a combo.
Steve: I can?t see how bands stay together and not do solo things. If you?re in a band like ours and you make one album every two years, that?s twelve songs every two years. I could write twelve songs in a week if I really wanted to and I guess all the other guys are fiddling around, playing things, working in studios. I think it?s a very healthy situation.
Whammo: It must help, having your own studio and taking your time.
Steve: Tim?s got a studio and it?s better doing it in your own studio, even if it?s not as big or grand. I remember when we used to do things in 301 for EMI back in the 80s and you knew it was costing thousands of dollars a day. That helps you focus a bit more but if you want to spend some time and muck around, it?s definitely better to have your own studio.
Whammo: Tim?s production is really interesting on Forget Yourself. Some of it is uncharacteristically raw for a Church album.
Steve: It is. That?s one thing about this album: it?s the first time The Church has ever been really raw. It?s the first time it?s been so direct. It wasn?t really the plan when we started but the more we played, the more we thought ?this is edgy and nervy? so we left that raw thing in there because to dilute it too much would have diluted the intent of the songs. But that?s one of the things that the fans are complaining about: the rawness. But that?s life. Some people get on there and say ?isn?t this great, it?s so raw? and other people get on there and go ?I didn?t want this, it?s raw?.
Whammo: Being such a prolific songwriter, what inspires your lyrics?
Steve: Actually, you know what inspires me? The music. I don?t really write any lyrics on their own and I always wait until I get a piece of music. What happens is: The Church write a piece of music and I go ?great, this inspires me?. I take it away, listen to it for a couple of weeks and eventually a picture of what it is starts building up. So I usually book my vocal session and about an hour before I go in I listen to it and usually write my lyrics on the spot after having had them percolating around my head for a couple of weeks. They usually come out pretty quickly.
Whammo: You?re lucky to have that gift.
Steve: Well, I?ve been doing it for so long. I?ve been thinking of writing lyrics ever since I was born. Ever since I was 4 years-old and listening to records, I was wondering ?who?s singing these lyrics, did he write these lyrics, is this just a song or does the man really mean what he?s saying?? When someone says that their heart was broken, when you?re a kid you?re thinking ?is this symbolic or is his heart actually broken?? Do you know what I mean? I was always really obsessed with lyrics and thinking about it. So I?ve got lots of little techniques and ways of doing things. I can force something to happen. I never just sit there and go ?I don?t know what I?m going to write.? There?s always something I can fall back on.
Whammo: Are you already thinking of what you might work on after Forget Yourself? Although, I guess it?s usually a six month campaign whenever you put out an album.
Steve: Definitely. Well, depending on technical or visa issues, we?re planning on touring America and Europe early next year. I?ve just made a record with a guy in a band in America called Remy Zero. He was the guitarist. They broke up recently but they played with us in L.A. and when we were there he gave me some music that he?d written and he said ?I?d really like you to sing?. I thought ?yeah, sure pal? but I got back to my room and I had no CDs except for the one this guy had given me. I stuck it in and I was like??Jesus, this is really good!? So we started corresponding, musically. He was in L.A. and he?d send me the music, then I?d do the vocals in Australia. That?s finished now. He came out here and mastered it. I?m really excited about that. It?ll come out early next year. Beyond that, I guess The Church has got a load of unreleased and unfinished stuff in the vault that Tim and I will have a look at.
Whammo: Ever since I heard The Unguarded Moment as a kid, I always imagined The Church?s music to be something that the band members could look back on and not be uncomfortable with. There?s always been a sense of maturity.
Steve: Well, thanks very much. We?ve always had our own peculiar standards and our own way of doing things and a lot of the time it?s caused a lot of friction among ourselves and whoever we?ve worked with because right from the word go, people want you to go for the easiest option. So, when you?re starting a band, you say ?we want to write our own songs? and they say ?no, no we want you to play other people?s songs?. Finally, you write a song like Unguarded Moment, then people want to hear that. They say ?write more songs like Unguarded Moment?. So we?ve always followed our own ? if you got the four members together, we couldn?t even say exactly what it is ? it?s like a load of arguments and compromises between us to even try and know what we?re trying to do. But we have this sense of ? what we?d like to think as ? integrity. We?ve always done things we wanted to do and in all our back catalogue there would only be four or five songs that I?d be really embarrassed about. But I?m glad you say that. That really counts because when you see all the f**king bullshit being played on TV and radio you think ?God, why do I struggle so hard to maintain this kind of integrity ? nobody fucking notices or cares ? I might as well go out and do anything?. Every now and again somebody says something like that and you think ?somebody does notice- it does mean something to somebody that we don?t just do anything ? we?re still trying.?
Whammo: Well, I?m in a great position in that I?m given a free hand to concentrate on the strengths of Australian music, being rock and alternative acts. Considering that, The Church is very much one of our ?buzz bands?. You?ve got a great following in America. Was that mainly a result of that ?Under The Milky Way? period?
Steve: I think that?s when it really happened. Something happened with that song and that time: 1988. I have so many people come up to me in America and say ?that song defined something for me- when I hear that song I remember the first time I rooted a girl or the first time I went to University or the first time I borrowed my father?s car or the first time I took LSD?. They?ve always got that kind of feeling when they hear that song. I think that was when we hooked a lot of our long-term fans.
Whammo: It must be cool to have pre-empted the DIY situation that?s becoming do popular now. When did you start getting into that?
Steve: Well, that happened out of necessity really when the mainstream record companies started looking at us in the early 90s and said ?I think we?ve squeezed this tube of toothpaste as far as it goes?. That was basically all we had left- to do it ourselves. It?s like the thing of making a raw album. Some people like it, some don?t. There?s some wonderful aspects of being DIY: nobody telling you what to do, you don?t have to meet those bloody fat American bastards with gold chains around their hairy chests, saying ?listen Steve, I think you want to write some?? You know? On the other hand there?s huge advances and flying around the world 1st-class. That?s pretty good as well. You know, life?s like?well, whatever you get, you?ve got to pay for it in another way. If you?re with the big record companies, they?re always interfering and if you?re DIY, then you don?t have the financial clout. You?re just constantly on a boat going across an ocean, readjusting your course all the time as each new thing happens. As you spring a leak or the sail falls down or if a wave comes or if a shark starts circling, you?ve got to readjust all the time and we just spend all our f**king time arguing and theorising and talking about ?how should we do this? or ?how should we do that? or ?how should we get this across?. It?s such a full-time thing. It?s unbelievable. It takes up all your time, thinking ?what are we going to do with this thing??
Whammo: I thought you guys were living in different parts of the world, though.
Steve: Well, Marty?s living in America at the moment but the other three of us are living in Sydney. But it doesn?t matter where you?re living, you still always have this dialogue going on. It?s just never-ending.
Whammo: (laughs) And you?ve been arguing and theorising for a long time.
Steve: I know! I was just down at a caf? and one of our roadies said something about a song we?re playing and ?bang?: everyone was off; arguing and talking and swearing. I was thinking ?I can?t believe we?ve been doing this for so long!?
Whammo: It must be part of your secret to success.
Steve: I guess so. We?ve always talked a lot. I guess there?s bands where people come in and say ?you?re a f**king c**t, I don?t want to be in the band anymore?. We?re not like that. Everything that happens- there?s a five-hour discourse on it.
Whammo: Well, it?s good to be like that rather than be pent-up and frustrated.
Steve: Oh, there?s plenty of that as well (laughs). It?s very intense because we are trying to maintain our integrity and the whole force of this world is trying to make us lose our integrity. For example, someone rings up and says ?would you like to be on our TV show- you?ll play to ten zillion people across the world?. We say ?yes, yes, yes we would?. They say ?oh great, but you?ve got to play Under The Milky Way? and we?re like ?well, we wanted to play a song off our new album?. They say ?no, you?ve got to play Under The Milky Way?. So then you think: what?s more important: maintaining our integrity and saying 'f**k you' or going on the show and letting them tell you what to play? Usually we go for maintaining our integrity and saying ?f**k you?. But every time you do that, there?s a little bit of a cost to pay as well.
Whammo: It?s been great chatting to you Steve. I?ve been really enjoying Forget Yourself.
Steve: Did you write the review of that album?
Whammo: Yeah.
Steve: That was a fantastic review and you know what? The day I told you about, when I was miserable, that was the one thing I said to my wife: ?Whammo gave us a great review? so thank you very much for that.
Whammo: I?m glad I could cheer you up.
Steve: You did.



I found this review at the end of the interview too - I think it's the review mentioned above:

Forget Yourself proves the impossible; that a band can exist for 23 years, consistently producing credible sounds without disappearing up their own backsides or tarnishing their name with transient musical whims. This album represents the veteran troupe as a unanimous agreement on ideology; the same idea we loved in 1980. Forget Yourself blends a magnetic brand of pop, crushes it with raw distortion and adds a psychedelic garnish to arrive at the definitive trademark sound that has attracted a truly global following for this seminal act. Recorded at Spacejunk and produced by Tim Powles, the whole LP is beautifully tarnished by a raw edge that contradicts the sweet harmonies and melodies. It adds credence to the notion that The Church's career is working in reverse, powered by a DIY philosophy that protects the group from outside influence and purifies the sound. But the true appeal is always in the combination of 4 fine songwriters blending their best ideas to arrive at a supreme compositional quality. Sealine's opening wall of distortion is the most epic sound I've heard this year. It literally left me dazed and prepared me for the 14 prime tunes on Forget Yourself. After the first single, Song In Space, I discovered my new favourite song, The Theatre And Its Double, which breaks down to hushed vocals and lightning finger-picking to achieve the level of quality I call 'goose bump material'. Lay Low finds The Church rolling like a well-oiled machine with Powles driving the chorus and adding some lush offbeat snare-work to the quiet moments. It's the carefully planned dynamics and variety of textures that makes this LP one of the best albums for 2003 and there's no doubt the obsessive fans will be sated, at least for the moment. Forget Yourself, rather than exhibiting the craft of an act in its twilight years, suggests that The Church have much more to offer: much, much more.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 29 December 2004 )
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