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Steve on Gold Afternoon Fix's problems, music and the universe Print E-mail
Tuesday, 21 April 1992
by Mark Mordue
The Drum Media cover story, 21 April 1992, pg 27

Live and Let Die
Interview with Steve Kilbey
by Mark Mordue
The Drum Media cover story, 21 April 1992, pg 27

"It's no secret. Everybody knows this. I was bitterly disappointed with the last Church record. I don't like it. I don't think Gold Afternoon Fix was very good. On any level."

Steve Kilbey says the word 'bitterly' again. There's a pickle under his skin and in his manner, a weird mixture of indifference for the music industry blending into a hatred. And gnawing, yearning away, the hint of a desire to still ascend to that place which Under The Milky Way seemed sure to place The Church.  Oh success...it all fell away, a bad aftertaste in the Kilbey mouth. At a record launch for the new Priest=Aura, and a gold presentation for Starfish, Kilbey is oddly gracelss, even irritable, somehow against the occasion as if it is an insult and only free of spirit when playing with his ten-month old twin daughters, Electra and Miranda.
Ever private for your mood, The Church are back, cosmically arrogant, instantly recognizable, a little heavier in attitude, T-Rex in a valium-geared nightslide...It's hard to get a hold.

"If we had come out with Priest=Aura after Starfish, we could have killed it. But what did we do? We came back with Gold Afternoon Fix, this really mediocre, Church-by-numbers, all of our worst things, none of our best things record. To once again quote Jim Morrison, with 'the soul of a clown who always blows things at the last moment.'"

Kilbey recalls an old quote from guitarist Marty Willson-Piper in trying to explain himself and the knifey overdrive he has. "We don't know what we like. We just know what we hate."

Dressed all in black, the master of Priest=Aura shows wisps of grey in a beard that's vaguely Christ-like or near to the degenerating Beatles of the Rubber Soul/Revolver period. Spirituality, pop music, a kind of druggy inspirational edginess, age straining at his arrogance and talent - the outward image of Kilbey has its codes for his inner life and music, a kind of mirror in the gestures I suppose.

His manner drifts between the sharpishly cool, and a loose odd humour that obscurely suggests a put-down or two. Precocious, even petulant in his opinions, the man in Kilbey wants to meet you half-way but something indulged about him reasserts distances just as easily. "I don't know" is a mantra for him. You're close, and then you're far away.

The watery, wavelike quality of The Church's music turns me to reminisce about a coastal holiday. Coincidentally, its the same place where Kilbey's "father dreamed of owning a house. He worked all his life, like six-and-a-half days a week to get the beach house, which he owned for about a month. Then he died. While he was working on it."

"It was really sad. So Broulee and the South-Coast (NSW) has funny memories for me. We had to sell it. That was the other ironic thing. One of life's little ironies. We had to sell the house to pay probate on his death. It happened a long time ago..."

In talking about death, Kilbey mentions "this Buddhist sutra. 'To slip like a shining drop into the endless sea.' To just become a part of everything else, part of the cosmic all."

That dissolve factor obviously influences "what I've said a million times before - I'd dearly love to be a musician that just makes music. That enough people bought my music so I didn't have to do anything else. I didn't have to do videos or be a personality or say or do anything. I think there are people who are personalities, and people who are musicians. And I think anything I say here is just going to detract from the album. A lot of people should basically just keep their mouths shut."

Purity of intent often suggests a religious ecstasy, but its an attitude that also invites a necessary savagery to sustain one's course. Discussing the artistic demise of a mid-'80s goup like Simple Minds, who forsook textural adventure (unlike U2) for corporate thunder, Kilbey describes them as "Finished. By attempting to embrace the beast, it destroyed them. It pulled their teeth out and threw them aside."

Well he might parallel that observation to The Church's own ability to grow. It's not often you hear pop musicians speaking like this - "We got ride of our manager because he was just success-oriented. Success at any cost."

Priest=Aura is most clearly Kilbey's necessary work. "I don't know if the other guys in the group love it as much as I do." he admits.

"I don't know what those guys think any more. I don't know what goes on in their heads. We've established such an intimacy over the 12 years, it's probably done us good to stand back from the intimacy a bit. I'm not saying you can make music with anybody you hate, or someone who just wasn't giving out anything in any way. You've gotta be friends to do it. And we are friends. But I don't now what their ideologies and philosophies are. And for this record, maybe from a greedy point of view, it didn't matter. I just wanted what they could give me musically."

With the Church all enjoying solo projects of their own, maybe there's space for kilbey's ego to break-on-through to his own truths. Peter Koppes, the group's bassist [Shadow Cabinet note: No, Peter is a guitarist] , has his own band, "The Well". Jay Dee Daugherty, whose drive is all over Priest=Aura, is still best known as Patti Smith's drummer. Willson-Piper has a solo career as well as casual connections with England's "All About Eve".

Maybe there are all kinds of personal and professional resonances, I don't know, when Kilbey sings 'an enemy equals an adorer', and when he speaks of how "people can hate you so much they love you. People can love you so much they hate you."

"I guess even bands that have been around for years and years like us are allowed to change. To have a change of heart overnight. What you do isn't just an upward curve or a downward descent. But I think with Priest=Aura we've really come back and justified ourselves."

"You know, I read this thing once that said music and musicians exist to describe the universe. And I know that sounds incredibly lofty and silly. And I guess we can all have a snigger at that. But there is some truth in it. Even for pop music, which is, I suppose, the lowest common denominator of all the sorts of music.

"The best music does describe space or the universe, life and death. It really moves you, makes you feel bliss, sadness, or something triumphant. Feelings that are a small map of the universe.

"Once again I've another rock 'n' roll cardinal sin to break to say this: I've got two daughters who are ten months old, and when fucking Rozalla comes on TV with her video singing 'Everybody's free to feel good!', my kids get up and scream.

"They don't know any language. They don't know anything about people, or cool, or ecstasy or disco. But something about it gets right into their spirit. There's something...supernatural happening in music at its best. It can appeal to things that are totally sub-literate. Even animals. Music soothes the savage beast. They're right below words. They don't know the difference between Johnny Farnham and Nick Cave. But these creatures are affected by music.

"It's like music is a template of existence. It gets in. And that's what - beyond all the bullshit and trying to sell records, and be rich, and get a nice cheque fom APRA, and everything else - that's what, in their own small and humble way, The Church want to get back to by doing this record.

"Giving people some sense of that thing. But we don't know why or how. We're just stumbling around in the dark, doing it."

Last Updated ( Sunday, 16 January 2005 )
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