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Steve and Grant talk about Jack Frost Print E-mail
Saturday, 22 December 1990

From Juke magazine, Dec 22 1990

 

Jack Frost
Hey Turn Dat Up, I Like Dat Song
Juke, Dec 22 1990 pg 12

Interview by Rodney Clelland
Picture by Rodney Clyde

The gentlemen sitting with me at this rather overwrought piece of garden furniture are unarguably two of the best songwriters in this, or any other, country.

The make for an interesting contrast, even visually. On my right, Steve Kilbey somehow just looks right - despite the face the faded black shirt that sure ain't seen an iron, and even the floppy mop of hair looks like it was designed to fall that way. Hairwise, former Go-Between Grant McLennan has no such problem, much like myself, what's left of his locks hide beneath a battered baseball cap.

They are a somewhat daunting pair to interview. They've obviously heard all the questions before, and heaven help the poor bastards from TV Week and Dolly who have to face them down this afternoon. Having been through the mill so many times, they are sharp. Very sharp. Kilbey biting at any ill-conceived statement ("Who said Gold Afternoon Fix was the Church's best album? I've been all around the world and nobody has said that to me..." McLennan is big on taking the piss.

He and Kilbey are obviously still getting to known and understand each other ("Steven, you've just gone from talking about German philosophy to the sexual deviations of TV personalities -- that is really not normal" "But the middle is never interesting. Grant, it's the extremes that intrigue -- whether it's high culture or the total sleaze.")

Together these two intriguing characters have slipped into a small studio in innercity Balmain and came out three weeks later with on of the year's most compelling, at times uncomfortable, but totally listenable albums, under the name of Jack Frost. What follows is edited highlights of a compelling, at times, uncomfortable, but totally listenable chat I had with them, and they with each other. Edited highlights? Yeah, I took the stuff out which probably would have led to a few expensive defamation writs.

* The bio said it was as romantic and simple as you ringing up and saying 'Let's write some songs', was it really like that?
SK: "Yes, really. We had met a few times, casually flung the idea around before, halfheartedly. I said let's write, that worked, then said I knew a little studio we can work at, and we just went in and made the record. All very nice and simple."
GM: "That's really what we're encouraging poeple to do, go away from their bands and go cause some problems in a studio with some other people."

*Steve, do you need an escape from the Church - some other outlet?
SK: "Argh. You see, I don't see myself as 'escaping' from The Church. I see myself as a free man, sometimes I do things with The Churhc, sometimes with others, sometimes on my own. The Church is not the be-all and end-all. It pays the bills, yeah, and for that reason it's important - but in the musical scheme of things it's just something I do occasionally, and it is pretty occasional these days - we get together every two years - do an album, do a tour. We worked hard for a long time for this situation to become available - I really want to dispel that notion of The Church being the main thing in my life.'

Are you happy with the way Jack Frost has turned out?
SK: "I really do love it."
GM: "Yeah, some of it is wild, isn't it?"
SK "With the single (Every Hour God Sends), we picked a track that really was nothing like the Go-B's or Church-like, so people couldn't say it sounded like something we'd done before. It's really quite savage."
GM: "It's a kind of indication that there's a lot of different things lurking on the record, rather than what you might expect."
SK:"It's just to show that it's not what you'd expect from Grant and me together - it's certainly not a 'Under 16 Lover Lane Way In Metropolis' thing."

What about live performance, besides these support things for They Might Be Giants?
SK: We're only doing those two shows, and maybe one more, and they'll only be acoustic, and that's it really. But if there was a huge demand to play live, we might put a band together - but that seems like an awful lot of hassle, exactly the hassle we've tried to avoid by doing it all (album and live) so simply."

When's your solo album out, Grant?
GM: Probably the end of March.

With Dave Dobbyn producing? That sounds like...
GM: ...An even stranger pairing? Yeah, you might think that. Put me and Dave up against a wall and you'd say 'Naahhh...' But Dave really does like writing songs, and a mind that's open to ideas. And he loves melody. And he makes a great martini.

SK: It's a very nebulous thing, this production thing. I'm not even sure what a producer does - it can be from telling someone to do a song a certain way, or just turning the switches. You really can do nothing if you like, and still get credit for it."
GM: Like Robert's (Forster, other creative half of The Go-B's) new solo record. I really like it, but it's certainly not the sound I would have gone for on my record - it's all very sparse atmospheric, a hall-y kind of sound. NOnetheless, there's a couple of songs on it that are classics.

The whole Go-Betweens breakup was very strange, playing a little pub one week and then announcing it was over, what happened?
GM: Well, yeah. We wanted to play some small places, try out some new songs. But after twelve years, I really wanted to end it. I would've ended last year, but we thought we had one more album left in us - but it wasn't to be the case. It was a loss, certainly. But if it hadn't happened, I wouldn't have made Jack Frost, or my solo record, or Robert his album. Hmm, I don't think aobut it much , but the freedom is what I wanted.
SK: But what if someone took, say, six songs off your record and six off Robert's - they may get the Go-Between's album that never was.
GM: Yeah, maybe. I know that's what our English manager would have wanted! But Robert and I decided it would be better to work separately. And there's never going to be a reformation under the Go-Between's name...
SK: ...until in seven years, you're all stony broke, and someone gets on the phone and says: "I can get you a job..."

You could end up with a number one record
GM: "No, it would be too difficult. It's horrible to see people, whatever people, in that position. In seven years I hope to be making films in Hollywood, anyway. Writing, directing, even casting this guy (Kilbey) against type."
SK: What, have me play a good guy? (Laugh). Actually, a guy rang me once - said he was a film student, wanted to cast me in his film. I asked 'As what?' He said 'a washed up rock star' Said I couldn't, I'd been playing that role for too long anway."

Who else plays on Jack Frost, besides you two?
SK: A lot of it is a guy named Pryce Surplice, who did the drums, a lot of the computers, engineered, helped mix it - he transformed some of our unrealistic ideas into reality.
GM: He did a lot of the tedious work, made it possible for us to work very quickly.
SK: He is a good guy, Grant and I would be saying 'We want to make a noise! We want to throw an amp off the roof of the building!'"
GM: And he'd put the mattress down to save the amp."
SK: We found the string section as we were walking home one day, went past this house, and heard this orchestra playing. Itr's true, really. We said, come and play on our record - and they - and cheap! They did it for the beer and the drugs.
GM: And the cello player was sure into the drugs

The whole process sounds all very natural, all very fun.
SK: Yeah, it truly was. It's strange that fun isn't something we come to expect from music anymore. We basically just enjoyed ourselves - and what's wrong with that?
GM: Even the name is part of that. It would have been boring to call it Steve Kilbey & Grant McLennan.
sk: We'd argue over the biling for starters.
GM: Actually, he's Jack. I'm Frost.
SK: Maybe we should have called Harry Frost, and really confused people.

Your sense of humour has sometimes got by people, Steve. There was a bit of a furor over you "I get great enjoyment from looking down on the poor people from seat of a jumbo" remarks in interviews around the Gold Afternoon Fix release. (Grant cracks up)
SK: Was there? What did people say ? It had been a long day of interviews and the girl from the record company and I had smoked something to relax - I forgot where I was and I forgot the microphone was open, and kept playing the part of the rich rockstar, who pretends he cares. I'm neither - I don't have loads of bucks, and I don't care...(Grant falls off chair).

People do tend to take you too seriously - some of the Church songs are really funny - but people just see you as deadly serous all the time - you old hippie, you.
SK: My persona has gone through a few changes over the years.

I interviewd you about eight years ago, and you were very difficult...
SK: Me? In what way?
Just playing mind games, just not answering the questions.
GM: He can do that again if you want...
Thank you, no, I like him better this way.
SK: You might be right - the difficult person was someone I thought the Australian rock industry needed - I even hate the term Australian rock industry - all full of John Farnham-types, all saying ' Yeah, mate - everything's great!!' I thought we needed something different.

But you're not 'Australian' as such - you don't fit the type, anyway.
SK: I try to see it in overview, not quite part of it. Having read what Bob Dylan or Marc Bolan said in Medlody Maker or the NME while I was growing up, I couldn't come to an interview table completely naive - I knew my words were going to be truncated, put in quotation marks. Difficult, moody and alof was a good part to play for a while. Now I'd just like to be a musican, not a persona at all.

Do you even like doing this interview thing at all?
SK: No, this can be aliright - later we have to talk to Dolly and TV Week, and I know that's going to be tedious - they are not going to be interested in how we make our music, and they don't need to.
GM: Hell, what's my favourite colour? - they're bound to ask me that.
SK: No, they probably know that already.

How will you cope as part of a teen dream band, Grant?
GM: I've always seen myself as a teen dream, actually.

You old sex symbol, you.
SK: Marty has put himself in another band, too. He wants to be a member of All About Eve, like a double agent, a member of both bands, and that's fine by me.
The Church is a part time enterprise?
SK: Yeah, I guess so - together ten years, get together now and then. It's a f..king rock band - it's not a way of life, not an ideology.

But it's part of the Australia rock idiom - it's supposed to be a way of life, all mates together...
SK: Yeah, well, I'm sure the people who like the Church will like stuff on this record. The Church name is like a trademark, the name will pack out a theatre - if Kilbey, Koppes, Willson-Piper played, no-one would trun up, coz it wasn't called The Church. Maybe we could sell the name? On goodwill value. Call Ups and Downs and tell them they can call themselves The Church if they give us a million each. It can be frustrating, when you do things you think are just as good, but some people just want The Church name, no matter what. I've said to Grant, that no matter how good Jack Frost is, people are still going to ask about The Church or The Go-Betweens.

GM: Don't panic, they're perfectly fair questions. It's just, to us, slightly irrelevant, unimportant - particularly to me, because the band really doesn't even exist anymore. But to presume people can disregard it is idealistic, unrealistic. It's like a loaf of bread - people want what they know - put the same loaf of bread in a different packet and people won't buy it, but what can you do?
SK: Without slagging off the Church, I think my contribution to Jack Frost is a much better contribution that I made to Gold Afternoon Fix. I really don't think that is a very good record. Jack Frost has the stuff Fix lacked: spontaneity, humour, love. Just the way Fix was made: great expense, dragged out over a long period, in less than happy conditions, with our drummer being tossed out - It just didn't add up to a good record. Jack Frost is quick, it was fun.
"This is the way I want to make records from now on - there were like 500 meetings before Fix got underway. I want to bring the Jack Frost philosophy to all my records. Actually, Arista, who are the Church's label oversea, are going to release Jack Frost worldwide, they love it. And I want to use it as, like, leverage. Yeah, you like this so much, let The Church go into a studio for three weeks and muck around, and we'll give you something good as well. Gold Afternoon Fix was a definite lowpoint from where I'm concered, from which we will return - I really can't listen to it any more. It can't be our last record, we'd have to go out on a good one. And I accept most of that was my fault.
"Part of it is the face that Grant and I aren't tied together. We haven't been through endless meetings with managers, or people whispering in our ears going: 'You're the best, don't let him sing, or girlfriends worrying about who's getting the best lighting onstage. We haven't done 19 tours togeth, fighting over the cable TV in a hotel room. We were in a studio for three weeks, did the record, had a good time. I'm sure if we slogged it out through the midwest for six month, we'd be sitting here with our attorneys.

Transcribed by Brian Smith

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