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Steve talks about Heyday to Rolling Stone (Aus) Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 February 1986

The author of this interview, Clinton Walker, also presented the episode of television show Studio 22 on Australia's ABC on which The Church appeared.

TITLE:  The Church Undergoes a Revival:  Fourth album has the drive of their early days
(not sure about the subtitle – hard to read the image)
INTERVIEWEE:  Steve Kilbey
SUBJECT:  The Church (Heyday)
AUTHOR:  Clinton Walker
SOURCE:  Rolling Stone Australia
DATE:  Feb 1986

“I think we released a few dud records that weren’t as good as they should have been, after The Blurred Crusade.”  Steve Kilbey, chief deity in The Church, pauses to reflect and sip on his peppermint tea.

“After we came back from the UK and we did Séance and those two Eps (Sing-Songs and Remote Luxury), the band was just drifting along in a sea of apathy, I was writing not-so-good songs and the band wasn’t playing them very well, so everyone’s enthusiasm just waned.”

Now, though, after almost an entire year out of the public eye, The Church are back.  Their record company in Australia, EMI, has just released Heyday, their fourth album, which marks the beginning of a new, revitalised phase for the band.

“Our creativity’s on the up again,” Kilbey nods. “I think we’re undergoing a bit of a renaissance at the moment, actually.”

Despite a reputation for being “difficult,” especially in regards to the press, today over lunch at a popular vegetarian diner not far from EMI’s Sydney head office, Kilbey seems at ease and eager to talk, almost as if to redress the balance.  Of course, the release of the new album goes a long way to explaining his positive mood.  Heyday’s release, after a number of unsuccessful international deals, is the first fruit of the band’s contract with Warner Brothers in the U.S.A., and as such is cause for celebration.  It was Warners which insisted on a producer being brought in, a move which Kilbey had always resisted in the past.  Fortunately, they managed to secure their first choice – Peter Walsh, the young English producer and engineer who had made Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream.

Preceding the album’s release, the single “Already Yesterday” came out in November; unsurprisingly, even though it possessed soul and savvy in abundance, it went nowhere.  Radio still seems reluctant to give The Church a chance, a continuing situation which has been the bane of the band’s existence; only the early single, “The Unguarded Moment,” has enjoyed airwave exposure.  To this listener, The Church’s florid folky-rock is nothing if not extremely accessible and attractive.  Kilbey has a few ideas on the subject.

“I think the fact that we’re called The Church,” he says, “and our albums were called something like Séance, and the covers featured things like hooded women on the way to the grave – I think that put a lot of people off.  Mystery and intrigue don’t rate highly; people want something that’s easy to understand, like songs about cars and girls.  I think the gloom and doom put people off.”

Yet while The Church may never have accrued a major audience in Australia, around the world they’re a revered cult act.  After testing the water – unsatisfyingly – in the UK and Europe early on, in 1984 the band turned its attention to America, where its records were selling well on import.  And playing in America provided an uninspired band with just the tonic it needed.

“Once we hit America, we started to rediscover ourselves,” Kilbey recalled.  “The audiences just went crazy; it was wild.  The ridiculous thing, we realized, was that once upon a time we were an exciting band, but then we went into that horrible gloom and doom period, playing all those slow songs.  In America, we rediscovered the fact that we could be exciting.”

But the band had to wait before it could go back into the studio again.  Walsh wasn’t available until July 1985 so they laid low, with members taking on different projects, like James Griffins’ Subterraneans; Kilbey recorded a solo single, “This Asphalt Eden.”  “It wasn’t very constructive, it certainly lowered our profile,” he recalls, “but it was nice on a personal level, just to have the time off, to do nothing.  Then this whole paisley underground thing exploded, and I guess we just felt fairly amused.”

Of course, from the very first, The Church had been pegged as new psychedelia, though it’s never been clear whether this had more to do with their shirts or with their sound.

By the time they were ready to record, the group members were unanimously of the opinion that they wanted to record something more exciting than what they’d come up with over the previous couple of years.  And indeed, taking a deliberate step back from the unfocused indulgence of its immediate predecessors, Heyday picks up again the clarity and drive of vintage Church.  This band hasn’t proffered a more coherent collection of songs since their second album, The Blurred Crusade.

Kilbey puts this down, in part, to the fact that rather than the songs being written by himself alone (which was always the practice in the past), they were written collectively by the band – comprising in addition to Kilbey, guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper and drummer Richard Ploog.

“I thought the album would get an injection of energy that way,” Kilbey explains.

The band spent a month or so in the rehearsal room with Peter Walsh, getting material together.  It was Walsh’s work on Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream, in particular, that prompted The Church to employ his services.

“Peter got really involved, he sort of became a fifth member,” Kilbey says.  “He isn’t a producer who gets the currently fashionable drum sound; I think we just wanted a big, warm, exciting sound that rather than impress people on the first listen was something they could live with for a while.  We were also keeping an eye towards something that had a chance of getting played on the radio.”

Certainly, the crisper, guitar-oriented sound of Heyday will translate more readily to the stage, but radio play remains a big stumbling block.  Although The Church don’t want to desert Australia and the loyal fans they do have here, they’re more than prepared to leave for America, as their prospects there are still good.

At this stage, no one can accuse The Church either of throwing down the gauntlet, or of selling out.  Kilbey’s visions haven’t changed, and nor have his shirts.

“That’s my big dilemma,” he says.  “I can’t seem to abandon it.  I’m just very wary of making obvious statements.  I guess it’s there and I guess it always will be.

“Thinking about this band, my theory is that maybe there’s not many people who like Church records, but the people who do, like them a lot.  I don’t think a lot of bands get a second chance – we’re on about our tenth now.  I just think no one has ever been able to make up their minds about us.

“I’ve always thought, even though you do accept rock music as the lowest common denominator, that it is possible to make some kind of statement with it.  You can alter people’s consciousness.  Perhaps after all, reality is an illusion, and the illusion reality.”

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