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Steve talks about his current work Print E-mail
Saturday, 15 August 1998
This is the full transcript of an interview between Steve Kilbey and Katherine Yeske. Katherine was writing an article for a Los Angeles paper and kindly made this document available.
For the record, I called him at his home this past Saturday (Aug. 15), at 8:30 a.m. EST my time, 2:30 p.m. Stockholm time for him. Some Swedish TV show was blaring in the background, and his daughters were squealing and giggling the whole time, too - playing some sort of game nearby, I guess. Too bad I don't speak Swedish or I could tell you more. Anyway, he was much more upbeat and enthusiastic than he was when I interviewed him for Sometime Anywhere back in '94 - it was nice to hear someone so content.

Starts off w/basic pleasantries, then -

Katherine: Moving to Sweden - that's kind of an unusual move for an Australian, isn't it?

Steve: Yeah, well, I'm English, really. But, yeah, I've got kids that live here. I've got Swedish daughters. So I moved here to be with them here all the time.

K: So you speak Swedish.

S: Yeah.

K: Any songs in Swedish coming anytime soon, then?

S: No, no, I don't think so. Swedish isn't a good language for rock 'n' roll, I don't think.

K: How long have you lived there?

S: Almost a year.

K: Have you gotten involved in the music scene there yet?

S: No, there's no scene here! (laughs) I think it's a nice place to get away from it all, you know?

K: Are the other members in Sweden, too?

S: No, it's just me.

K: How do you do your songwriting?

S: Well, it's when we get together, we write. When we make a record. When we're all in one place.

K: Is that very often?

S: Well, it's as often as we need to.

K: Where's everybody else living?

S: Marty's in England; he comes over here quite a lot. And the other two are in Sydney.

K: So - your last album was recorded at your studio in Sydney. Where was this new album done?

S: Yeah, it was done at the same place, in Sydney.

K: Are you going to move it to Stockholm ?

S: I've been thinking about that, yeah. Thinking about that very seriously. I'd probably sell it and get another one here.

K: Is the studio private? Can people rent it out?

S: Yeah, other people can rent it out.

K: I know you've done a fair amount of producing...

S: Yeah, I've done a bit. Not a real lot. A few albums.

K: I was noticing the title for this album - it's unusual...

S: What, "Hologram of Baal"?

K: Yeah.

S: Well, the, really, in rock 'n' roll, nothing has anything to do with anything. Like, what does "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" mean? I don't know. It just seemed like...I don't know; it just seemed like a good title. Really no story behind it.

K: Really? I was wondering if it was somehow connected to the David Bowie Baal album, since you've said you're a fan of his.

S: Oh, yeah - it's nothing to do with that. This is Baal as in the pre-Christian god. That Baal was a character that was [created by] that European guy [Brecht - kat.]. Yeah, I like him, but it's nothing to do with that.

K: This album seems to have more of a atmospheric, ambient feel to it than you've ever done. Was that on purpose?

S: We like ambiance; we're always moving towards ambiance. Sort of, not necessarily some sort of passive ambiance - more a noisy ambiance, too. So, we're trying to get that atmosphere - you know, we're always going to that. I'm really interested in that setting-up [of] atmospheres.

K: Is there anyone else out there that you think does that sort of thing well?

S: I don't know...I don't know... (pause) Yeah, you know, there's a few really obscure people doing some good stuff, like Rodelius [spelling?], and there's an album called "Biosphere," which is on Cooking Vinyl and Thirsty Ear by a Norwegian guy; it's kind of this sort of arctic ambiance. You feel like it's on the North Pole.

K: Maybe since you're label-mates, you could get together sometime and do a project together.

S: I'd like to, yeah.

K: Now, Peter's back in the band, which is great.

S: Yeah. I always thought he would. He just needed some time. off. We just missed each other. The band missed him, and he missed the band. I think he does his best work within the context of the band.

K: Any chance of a reunion with Richard Ploog, too?

S: The drummer we've got at the moment is easily the best drummer we've ever had, and I think he'll be staying for a long time. I hope so, he's good. He used to play with bands that supported The Church, and we became friends, and when the drum seat became vacant again, he sort of just fell into the job.

K: Seems like the drummers have been the one part of your band that's really been unstable through the years.

S: Yeah, well, drummers are strange, you know?

K: Well, it's his and Marty's guitar parts playing off each other that's the really important thing, I guess.

S: Exactly.

K: But I guess he contributed to the last album, too, so it's not such a big switch.

S: Yeah, the last album [Bri: Magician Among The Spirits] was...I'm not very happy with the last album, really. I think it was just sort of a bit of a mishmash. It's okay, but it's a bit of a black sheep in the family.

K: Why do you think that?

S: Oh, I just don't think it's a very good album. It's like, there are some okay things on it, but I think it's best left collecting dust somewhere.

K: But now your new label wants to re-release it, I see.

S: Yeah. I mean, people can get it for its historic value, or whatever. But I'm not very happy with it. At the time - well, you know, I don't know what I was thinking at the time. I guess it didn't happen. Sometimes it just doesn't happen, and that's what happened.

K: Well, I guess when you've released eleven albums, it's unrealistic to think that they're all going to be equal...

S: That's right. Hit and miss, isn't it?

K: How did you come to sign with all these new labels?

S: That's just the way it worked out. Different people in different territories wanted us, and it's just the way it worked out.

K: It's good that it's letting you do your first full-fledged tour -

S: - In a long time, yeah! This is the real thing.

K: How are you able to prepare for it, now that you're all in such far-flung places?

S: Well, we're getting together in L.A. and we're going to rehearse for a week.

K: When exactly is the first date of the tour?

S: Oh, when is it?...about the 20th of September, I think [Bri: It 18th of September. See list].

K: Your fans are going to want you to play a lot of your older songs, as well as the new - do you mind always having to play them?

S: No, it's what people want to hear. It's a cross-section, you know? And that's what we'll be doing. Probably doing two or three songs off every album. (pauses) But even that's too much, because even if we did two songs, every album, that's like 22 songs, which is already too much. So, some of 'em are gonna have to...I don't know what we're gonna do yet! We'll have to decide when we get together which songs we're gonna play. But it's pretty much, when we get together, it's gonna have to be what everybody feels is appropriate.

K: Must lead to a lot of arguments -- everybody must have their own favorites!

S: Yeah, yeah, they do. We sort of have to figure out which ones will fit together.

K: Sequence, yeah...I read a review where the person thought that "Magician Among the Spirits" could've held together better if the songs were in a different order, so maybe you're right about getting the right order!

S: Well, they should get themselves one of those CDs that you can program to play in whatever way they want!

K: Are there any songs on this album that you think are going to work particularly well in concert?

S: You know, we haven't played them live yet, so we're gonna have to experiment. So I really don't know. I'm hoping we can do two or three off this album, but we're not gonna do all the songs. Probably, maybe three or four, maybe.

K: You didn't play any of them when you did your Australian tour? -

S: No, we haven't done our Australian tour.

K: No, I mean, didn't you do one late last year?

S: We hadn't written them then. We started writing them after that.

K: Can you do any songwriting while you're on tour?

S: Sometimes, at soundchecks and things, we write bits and pieces. But mainly, no, you don't write much on the road. Some people probably could; I don't. I mean, I hear the Beatles used to write songs in hotel rooms and stuff, but I know when I'm in a hotel room, I just want to relax and not think about writing songs.

K: I was wondering if all the touring you've done, and now your moving around the world - is that why there always seems to be a "travel theme" to your songs?

S: Yeah, I think it's inevitable, if you're moving around a lot, that that's gonna get into what you're writing about. It has to, really. And, you know, traveling around with a band, you see a lot of places, a lot of things you don't sort of do a normal life. I think all of that winds up in the songs.

K: I guess after traveling around, it'd be hard to go back to a regular nine-to-five job.

S: I couldn't do it. I haven't done that for such a long time. A long, long time ago, I had a regular job.

K: What did you do?

S: Oh, I was sort of a computer programmer.

K: I can't picture that at all.

S: No, I can't either!

K: I'd always imagined you went into the band from being a college English major, or something!

S: (laughs) No, I didn't go to college.

K: Seems like you must've studied some really good poets at some point, though, judging by your lyrics.

S: Um, yeah...the poets we learned at school weren't the poets I liked, you know. I guess you've got to do a lot of reading, which I always did. I went out and found out about the poets I like on my own, which I think most people do. I don't think the sort of stuff they teach in school is...well, when I went to school, it was a long time ago, and it sort of wasn't very interesting. You were told how to interpret it, what it meant, and it wasn't much fun, really. And I think if you're interested in poetry, you go and explore it on your own, go to esoteric bookshops and stuff, and find the people you like.

K: I remember reading the booklet in your "Earthed" CD and being really impressed by it because I'd never read anything like it before...

S: Thank you.

K: Do you think you might do something like that again?

S: Actually, there's a magazine called "North, South, East and West," which is our fanzine in England. And the guy who runs that is printing up a new book of poetry - actually, two books in one. And that should be coming out in the next couple of months.

K: What are the two parts?

S: One of them's called "The Ephemeron," and the other one's called "Nineva." "The Ephemeron" is quite old, and "Nineva" is new.

K: How'd you decide to finally put something new out?

S: I just felt it was time I had another book out, and I'd had "The Ephemeron" lying around for a long time. I didn't know what to do with it, so I just thought, "I'll put this one out." And I'd written a new one when I was in Sweden. It just seemed like a good way to put it out, through the fanzine. It will be available, I'd say, probably in about two or three months, through "North, South, East and West," in England. There'll be information about it on the 'Net, on our page.

K: I've checked out your site - it's really well done.

S: It is, isn't it? It's nothing to do with us - I mean, we don't have anything to do with it; it's got my blessings, but I don't have any input into it, you know. It's pretty much Brian Smith, the guy who does it in Australia. It's pretty much all his work. And yeah, I'm really happy with it. He does a really good job. I don't think we would've done it in the first place, and even if we had, I don't think we would've done as good a job as he has. And I think it's given us a new lease on life, in a way, because our fans have got something to focus on and find out what's going on. And it's run by fans, for fans, so it's not a money-making kind of greedy little venture.

K: Getting back to poetry for a moment - is there anyone you'd really recommend that people read, if they like your work?

S: Yeah, if you like what I do, I think you should read "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey." And I think, Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet; Angela Carter, who is an English writer; the French Surrealist poets, like Arthur Rambeau [spelling?!] and Baudelaire; and Andre Breton and those kind of people. Bob Dylan used to go and read Rambeau. I think the Bible's really an interesting book to read, too, you know, looking for inspiration. I think almost anything -- sometimes I just sit down and look through a phone catalogue and look at people's names, you know? Or I overhear conversations on buses. I think you can get inspiration anywhere, if you're looking for it.

K: Ever think of doing something even more ambitious, like a full-length novel?

S: I don't think I've got the patience or the concentration to write a novel. I think it's a really big job; I don't think I'm up to it. I think I'm kind of, I sort of specialize more in songs and poems, which are things that don't take so much work. I kind of get sick of something if I work on it for too long. But "The Ephemeron" is kind of like a small novel. It has a character; it's about a magician and his adventures.

K: It's interesting that your work is done in such a way that they're really open to interpretation.

S: Exactly, yeah. That's the idea, yeah - sort of act as a springboard for other people's ideas, so they can put whatever they like into it.

K: Do you ever hear someone's interpretation of what you say, then think, "Oh, you're way off..."?

S: No. It's never way off, because whatever they read into it is the right thing. Whatever they read into it is the right thing. However you interpret it, there is no right or wrong interpretation.

K: So even if it isn't in keeping with your original idea...

S: Then that's perfectly valid.

K: That's good - I interview a lot of musicians who tell me their fans misunderstanding their songs, and they're upset about it.

S: How can you be? I mean, you write a song, you put it out there, and people can do whatever they like with it. That's what it's there for - people to do whatever they want to do with it.

K: Are you going to make a video for this album?

S: I don't know what's happening with that at the moment. It's sort of lost in a bureaucracy somewhere.

K: Well, they are expensive...

S: They are, and I don't like them, anyway.

K: But you've made some good ones, in the past.

S: Yeah? I've never been happy with them.

K: Well, what if you directed them, instead of having someone else deciding how to present the song?

S: No, there's always other people directing them. I'm not a director, I don't know anything about film, so you've pretty much gotta be at their mercy, whatever they're gonna do with them. Some of them are okay; some of them I don't like.

K: It's interesting to watch the "Goldfish" video you released a while ago and see how the videos did get better as you went along, though.

S: Well, they couldn't get worse!

K: So you're going to include a bonus CD with the first pressing of this album. How did that come about?

S: Well, when we were making the album, one night we just wrote this piece that was 80 minutes long, and it just went straight down onto a tape. And when it was over, we just thought it would be nice for people to have it. I don't know how many it's going to be - the first 5,000 copies, or whatever it is, but the early birds will get the worm.

K: So it's a first take?

S: First take, a jam, no overdubs - just straight onto tape.

K: It's amazing that you could sustain something for that long.

S: Yeah. We weren't planning to do that. We just had the tape running, we just started playing, and we just kept playing and playing and playing and playing. And then it sort of finished, and everyone went, "Wow...that was good!"

K: So now you're going to be touring all over, for months. That's a long time to be away from home.

S: Yeah, it is, and it's making me feel a bit sad, actually.

K: There's no way to bring your family along, I guess.

S: No, they've gotta go to school. And they get pretty sick of that being on a bus. When I tour Europe, I can come home.

K: And after the tour, are you going to then work on any side projects?

S: Well, actually, next week I'm going to Ireland to make a record with an Irish guitarist, a guy who was in a group called Cactus World News. They were around ten, eleven years ago, and they toured with us for a while and we became friends. So this guy Frank and I talked about making an album; he's got a really nice, beautiful studio in Ireland, and we just sort of penciled it in. And now I'm going over there next week to do it.

K: So you have stuff written for it?

S: Oh, we'll write it when we get there. We'll write it as we record it.

K: Will it be released under your names?

S: I don't know what we're going to call it yet; we're sort of throwing names around, at the moment. So I don't know exactly what it's going to be called, or what label it's going to be under. We're just going to make it first.

K: When I interviewed you four years ago, you told me you were going to cut out some of your side projects because there were too many, and here you are taking on another!

S: Yeah, well, they keep coming up! It's all in the lap of the gods, really. Just put it this way: I think The Church is my main thing, and that's what I'm putting my energies into. But I don't know; I mean, Jack Frost, there's always a chance we could do another Jack Frost. I don't know.

K: The last Jack Frost album turned out well...

S: Yeah, I was very happy with that.

K: It must be nice to have the freedom to just work on whatever interests you.

S: Yeah, it's a good position to be in. I've been lucky, you know, to have been able to have sustained it. And lucky to have a lot of very devoted people listening, encouraging us. I think that's because we've maintained our integrity, and I think people appreciate that. And people know that even if our last album wasn't as good as it could've been, we tried. We're not just knocking stuff out for the sake of it. We try.

K: Plus, it probably helps that you never seemed to be touched by...

S: ...whatever seems to be going on at the time?

K: Yeah.

S: Well, you chase after that stuff, and you know, if you're the hot thing this week, then by definition, next week, you're not going to be. And I think you've gotta just ignore all that stuff. It's strange; we've kind of gone in and gone out of fashion all along, you know? At the moment, if you look at Radiohead and things like that, it's not a million miles away from what we do. So, maybe we're hip again. I don't know; it doesn't matter, really. It just doesn't matter. We're kind of above it and below it. If you maintain kind of a straight line, you know, fashion will come and go around you. But in two years' time, we might be completely out, but if we keep doing it, another two years after that, it'll come back again, I'm sure.

K: So you see yourself doing this indefinitely.

S: Yeah, I can't see why not, now. I think forever. It's like Neil Young - it doesn't matter what else is going on; Neil Young is Neil Young. I think The Church are The Church, and people know what to expect from us, and it doesn't really matter what else. If people are dyeing their hair green and playing saxophone, that's fine, but The Church are gonna be The Church playing their guitars. I think we've crossed that line now as sort of being's like, if you hold onto a car long enough, instead of being an old bomb, it becomes a vintage car. I think The Church have become sort of a vintage band.

K: Maybe all that will lead to an album that will conquer the world next.

S: I don't think so. I don't think that's gonna happen. I think we're going to just keep chugging along. The race is the prize, do you know what I mean? Staying in the race - that's all it is. We're good, you know? We're good at what we do, and we've put a lot of time into it, and I think that's the reason. Those two guys playing guitar, what the sort of guitar they play, are two of the best in the world. And what we do, we're pretty good. I think that's probably why we've maintained our longevity.

K: Well, I don't have any other questions, but is there anything else forgotten to ask that you want included?

S: No, no, I think you've covered everything.

...And that was pretty much it, except for the usual round of good-bye-related chit-chat. Hope you found some interesting stuff in here.


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