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On The Street interview with each band member before Starfish Print E-mail
Wednesday, 02 September 1987
Barry Divola interviewed each of the band members before they went to America to record Starfish. From On The Street magazine, September 2nd 1987

Steve Kilbey

"I know the book's intrinsic worth. It doesn't matter to me what anyone says about it now. A few people are going to savage it, a few people are going to glorify it, and a lot of people aren't going to care one way or another."

Steve Kilbey, lead singer, bass guitarist and songwriter with The Church, is talking about a book he has written. It's called Earthed, and the best description I can find of what it contains is found on the back cover - "myth, legend, dream, non-sequitur, science fiction, automatic writing and the occasional punctuation error."

It has been described as a book of poetry, a label which is sure to conjure up lots of pre-conceived ideas in the minds of critics. Half way through Earthed Steve himself jumps in and says, "This isn't really poetry, is it ? No. Now what you were really looking for was something with a bit more rhyme, a touch more timing ..." This book of short 'pieces' (I don't know what to call them either) are poetic in their rich use of language, allusions to myths, and the often dream-like nature of their content.

Earthed is a varied concoction, a mating of different worlds, as Jupiter, Aphrodite and Atlantis are found alongside characters who can switch their chronometres to 'future' and pop drugs called MEMORY and TRANCE.

"People might say the book isn't realistic, but when you look at your own life, it's a very disjointed story. It doesn't happen in a very linear way."

This isn't a one-off, by the way. Plans are already underway for Steve's next book, entitled The Amphibian, which will be a complete story [Shadow Cabinet notes that this never came to pass, at least not with that title.  The Amphibian is a song on the Remindlessness album], a "surrealistic novel, but still a novel." Fans of Neuman, the recurring character in Earthed, will be pleased to know that he will most probably be making a guest appearance in the new book.

Steve's first solo album, a collection of songs called Unearthed was still up there in the independent charts when he released a second LP. This one, like the book, is called Earthed, and is a group of instrumentals that he describes as a "possible soundtrack for the book." It entered the independent charts on release and at time of writing was sitting at the number two position. With all this activity, and resultant recognition, there are a few questions which just had to be asked. A few interesting answers were given along the way, too.

OTS: It seems like an ideal situation you four have, where you can do what you want inside and outside The Church. Do you see it as a happy marriage ?

Steve: (a long pause) Perhaps I've got the seven year itch....it has been been seven years too...I'm committed to doing the album and the subsequent tours, and then wel'll see what happens after that.

OTS: That doesn't sound very hopeful.

Steve: I don't know, I've got other things I want to do. It'd be nice to think that we could do both, but it always seems that everything you do on your own is regarded as something of minor importance.

OTS: I suppose, as it says on the back of the book, you are 'Steve Kilbey, the Church's singer, songwriter and bass guitarist!'

Steve: I guess so, but now Steve Kilbey is someone who has released two albums and a book. It's just that The Church has a certain style, which to break away from, it wouldn't be The Church any more.

OTS:  So will the new album be a complete departure from Heyday ?

Steve: It won't be anything like Heyday, I can assure you. Yes, it'll be different to everything else we've done, but it's still going to be the Church. It has got to have those basic elements...and those basic elements I find are slightly confining...as much as I enjoy them. But I'm sitting here now and it's July, and next month I'm going to start making this album, and I might think it's the best thing I've embarked upon. It might give the Church a whole new lease on life. So I'm sitting here at the moment waiting to see which way to jump.
One thing that frustrates me about the band is that if you want to do something, there's 900 people you have to ask. I've got this great new song (called Fireman, by the way) so I rang up John Foy and said I've written a great new song, and I want to put a single out! He said 'Great, we'll do it.' The only thing now is to wait to pick up the artwork and it's out. I've written something last night, and if Iwanted it out in three weeks, it could be."
"I don't want to have to explain myself to people. Now people are starting to like what we were doing five years ago. A lot of people were saying 'Oh, paisley mop tops playing guitar music - how pathetic!' Now every bloody band in Sydney are paisley mop tops playing guitar music. I'm pretty tired of dealing with people who can't understand my ideas. Now I've got myself into the enviable position - and admittedly I owe it to the Church - of working with John Foy and a little team of people. It's just like idea - get it out -forget it - next idea - get it out - forget it. It's not like if I put out a single someone's going to insist I go and tour northern Queensland for four weeks to promote it. Who needs all that?"

Peter Koppes

"I'm glad you've seen it from that point of view rather than that it dissipates the entergies, because it doesn't at all."

So says an almost thankful Peter Koppes, guitarist with The Church, to the suggestion that the pursuit of solo projects by members may well have strengthened it as a unit rather than necessarily weaked it.

"We're all individuals and we recognise the fact that we've been together as a band for this long some reason. We have individual ideas that are of interest to one another, but we have an ability to collaborate that's conducive to creating something that's more than each of us. The total is more than the parts.

"We like what we do and we enjoy each other's company. I don't know why people go solo and just drop what they've done before. The Church stimulating for us individually, and we can go out and do our independent things".

For Koppes, that "independent thing" took the shape of a three-track EP entitled When Reason Forbids. Released in March, it started out as a poem dedicated to Greg Hickman, lighting engineer for the Church, who died early this year from a cerebral haemorrhage, but developed into a song - a requiem and tribute to Greg.

Koppes describes the crew member as a "comet" who "took his chances and, a couple of weeks later, they took him".

All three songs on the EP are based around keyboards, which may seem surprising when you consider Peter's reputation as a guitarist, but it was something of a musical roundabout until he actually settled on a guitar as his instrument.

"The first instrument I ever played was a Hammon organ. I came from a musical home where there were all numbers of guitars, ukeleles and different instruments, but I never took any notice of them until the Hammond organ. We didn't have it there for very long because it was only on loan, so I ended up being a drummer for a couple of years."

When doing time with The Church, Koppes admits that he resents the fact that they are often tagged with the "60's resurgence" label, despite the undisputed truth that they were doing it for a long, long time before the current crop surfaced.

"We've taken it out of that", he says, of the psychedelic surge. "Sometimes it's pop, sometimes it's more sinister. There might have been slight similarities early in our career which made it obvious for them to make comparisons, but now it's a shame that we have to wear the same comparisons."

Richard Ploog

So, with all this activity going on within the ranks, what has the drummer been up to? "Well for the last six months I've had a coplete musical break, and that's been refreshing in itself. I've spent a lot of time in the country, I've bought a car..."

A 1954 Chevrolet, actually, but Richard Ploog isn't really the type to boast. In fact Richard was the first of the Church members to go out on his own to do something different. He has bashed the skins for such illustrious outfits as the Beasts of Bourbon, salamnder Jim, and more recently, the Saints [Shadow Cabinet note: In 2004 Marty joined the Saints too !]. In the Beasts he was James Baker's predecessor on the drum-stool, while the incarnation of Salamander Jim was a three piece - Richard on drums, The Scientist's Kim Salmon on guitar, and Greg Perkins up front.

Richard joined the Church in 1981, after the recording of the debut album Of Skins And Heart. He had ventured to Sydney from hometown Adelaide, and read that the band was looking for a drummer.

"They gave me a tape, and I thought it was the most interesting stuff I'd heard in ages. It struck me as being something really worthwhile, so I went along to the auditon and got it...even though Iwas quite slack about it, because I was about six hours late, and had borrow the other drummer's cymbals. It was probably giving them a taste of what I'm like."

And the rest is Church history. The ambition to record an alubm was soon realised in The Blurred Crusade, and two added bonuses were meeting Bob Clearmountain, and the record turning gold. Not a bad year considering that Richard was only eighteen at the time.

OTS: It's been two years since Heyday - is the new album going to be a big departure ?

Richard: "The choice of material already is very different from the last album. We're changing the arrangements, too, son instead of a straight-through rock song, we're going to segment thrings a bit more."

The position that the Church enjoy as band members and individuals is something that Richard recommends:
"There's no territorialism in the band at all really. We're free to do our own thing, and then when we play together we enjoy it as well. It's very relaxed...That's what music's all about - fresh ideas, new approaches. Not that there's much of that going on in the mainstream."

OTS: Looking back on it al,l at what time would Richard Ploog say he was most happy in the band's past ?

Richard: "Well, I feel that this past seven years has just been the beginning. It's not like it has been a long slog over seven years. Now we've got to spend another ten years consolidating on the first seven."

Marty Willson-Piper

"I hope this album will convince people that great music is not big-money or big-promotion or big-studios, but the special feeling that, I believe, this record has captured. Sometimes restriction can be a great asset."

So says Marty Willson-Piper in the accompanying booklet to his irst solo album In Reflection. "Restriction" is the operative word in this case, as the entire fifty-two minutes of music was recorded on a four-track machine over a two year period. The booklet is a nice touch, and an interesting insight to a few of the quirks of recording and stories attached to the songs. Of particular interest is Marty's innovative use of the Sydney Morning Herald as a snare drum on a couple of tracks!

With such simplistic recording techniques, the songs are left to stand on their own, without the usual "aural camouflage" that big name producers and epic studio wizardry lend to modern day artists. At the same time, it's probably encouraging to a lot of struggling independent bands and musicians that a record of this nature has been put together and made its presence felt.

OTS: The album was recorded over two years, finishing in 1985. So why did it take until 1987 before it was released?

Marty: "I didn't know if anybody would be into it really. It sudently occurred to me about six months ago that people might actually like it. Since I started doing those acoustic gigs in Australia, and got quite a reaction out of that, I thought people might like the things I've done at home, too."

Marty hasn't exactly been resting on his laurels since the release of the album. In fact, he was chatting to me from New York, where he was just completing work on his second album. It's called Art Attack, a collaboration once again with friend Andy Mason, and the production has been extended to a mammoth 8-track studio. Marty feels confident that feeling and atmosphere on In Reflection won't be lost, but the major difference will be that whereas the first album was recorded over two years, this one took three weeks.

OTS: Do you find it more satisying doing all this olo stuff compared to the work you've done with the Church?

Marty: "Well I don't consider myself a 'one expression' person. I can do lots of things. I can be the guitarist in the Church, co-songwrite in the Church, a solo acoustic artist., I can make my own albums, and I can also wait on tables, or work in an office, or dig ditches. What' I'm saying is that I don't believe a man grows up and he's a guitarist and that's what he has to do for the rest of his life. I'm a very energetic kind of person, and I find a lot of space in the day to do a lot of things."

OTS: I suppose an advantage of being in the Church is that as well as being a band member, you've got the opportunity to do other things as well.

Marty: "I think that all the frustration in the past the Church has had, which I'm sure you're aware of, have all become meaningless. I mean, I can get on a plane tomorrow, fly to Australia, released a new album and tour by myself. I think that's the most wonderful that has ever happened to the Church ... especially for me. God, I've been wanting to do something like that for ages, but I never released that I could."

OTS: What would you do if the Church broke up tomorrow?

Marty: "Well, I'd obviously continue to do my solo stuff. The last thing I want to happen is for the Church to split up, because I think that Steve, Peter, Richard and Marty together is a unique kind of chemistry. That's the only thing about the Church - it's unusual for four guys who are as individualistic as we are to stay togethe for seven years. I think there's something special about what we do...even if In Reflection sold 100 000 copies I'd still be playing guitar in The Church."

Two days after our conversation, Marty would fly to Los Angeles to join the other band members and start work on the new Church album. He thought it would take about three months. Producers for the project will be Greg Ladanyi, who worked on Don Henley's olo album, and Waddy Wachtel, guitarist at one time or another for just about every West Coast American band in history. After that Marty is going about the task of moving his worldly belongins to Stockholm, where he plans to live with his Swedish girlfriend. Then the tours will begin - he hopes to do a few more solo acoustic gigs on returning to our shores.

"I actually just did a gig in New York on Saturday, in Greenwich Village - Bob Dylan territory. It was great! I had a very good reaction. People were coming along with copies of the album for me to sign."

If enthusiasm is anything to go by, then Marty Willson-Piper is definitely way ahead on points. He obviously hasn't forgotten about home, though. As we say farewells he gets one last word in - "How are Bell Jar going, by the way?"

-- Barry Divola

Transcribed by Brian Smith

Last Updated ( Monday, 24 January 2005 )
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