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Steve and Marty talk to Boston Rock about Priest=Aura Print E-mail
Saturday, 21 March 1992


A bit of purple 'round the blob 

by Dev Sherlock

Steve Kilbey has me on the spot. The Church's principal
songwriter/singer/bassist is as hazy and as impenetrable as his songs, at
present he's attempting to explain why some things are inexplicable. The
problem is, virtually everything in Kilbey's musical world is beyond
explanation, and now, somehow, we have stumbled upon the gist of a song
called 'Heliopolis' from one of his many solo records, Unearthed.
"Well, what do you think it is?" challenges Kilbey. Um, well...(this is
where I decide to bail out). I don't know, Steve, you've got me.
'You see?" he triumphantly retorts, 'you can't even talk about somebody
else's songs, I don't know what to say about my own."
I think to myself, well, that's fair enough, you cocky son of a ....
"Suffice to say, the reason you like it," he offers, "is because it's
working on a number of things juxtaposed, a number of different feelings...I
think that's sorta what you're saying." Sorta.
"It's like sweet and sour sauce,"Kilbey laughs. "It's all operating on a
very vague terrain. All I do is, I'm setting up a little atmosphere and then
letting your mind run around in that atmosphere...It's like, I'm making his
drug, and you take that drug. But don't ask me what you're seeing from
taking my drug."

The Church's latest offering is the dark mental playground, Priest=Aura.
They enlisted veteran Scottish producer Gavin MacKillop (Shriekback, early
La's) after hearing his work on the last album by New Zealand's
Straightjacket Fits, the Church's Arista label-mates (MacKillop is now in
the studio with The Chills). They returned to Australia to make this, their
eighth album in 12 years, after having made the previous two in Los Angeles
with American producers.

After two weeks of listening I am still having trouble putting my finger on
it. There is some real strength present, the soothing desperation of "Feel",
the chiming U2-like glory of "Kings," and the venomous swirl of "Lustre". At
other times, though, I could probably use some of Steve's drugs as I find
myself lost in it's droning haze. And while the record has already been
criticized for rehashing a tired formula, others have championed Priest=Aura
for recapturing a magical 'heyday' of pre-Starfish Church music. In either
case, it is certainly a departure from some of the directness of their last
couple of releases.

"I think we made an album that we really wanted to make with this record,"
states English-born guitarist Marty Willson-Piper. "That doesn't mean that
anyone's going to buy it," he adds, laughing. "It's not like we didn't want
to make the last couple....Starfish was us being signed to Arista and making
a record in America for the first time. Obviously, we wanted it to be
successful and tried to make a record that was interesting to us, and
something for them to work with. And then, when it came to the second
(Arista) album, Gold Afternoon Fix, we lost our drummer halfway through and
there were a bit more straight-forward or pop-oriented, "Metropolis" and
"You're Still Beautiful." And we're just not at that place anymore.

How about the obvious question of the album's title? "I guess you have a bit
of a problem when you call an album something like this," says Kilbey,
returning to our debate, "and if it did mean something and you explained it,
you kinda take away some of the joy in people wondering what it is."
In the context of the song from which the title is taken, the lead track
"Aura" many of the lyrics make perfect sense - "The end = the beginning.
Richer = poorer' - but 'Priest = Aura' is not quite so clear.

Kilbey: "It's a bit like, you get a book by Beaudelaire called "The Flowers
of Evil" - I mean, there are no specific 'flowers of evil,' it's more of an
idea. Calling the album Priest = Aura is as random as, say, 'Make the First
Chord G'.
So, it has a nice ring to it.

Kilbey: "It does have a nice ring to it, but that seems superficial, as if
that's all it is...Some things exist in the void of explanation."
As a band that has been difficult to explain with consistency, The Church
have found themselves lazily tagged 'psychedelic' over the years ("Yeah,
we've been lazily tagged anything slightly four-piece and guitar-y since we
began," observes Willson-Piper), and it now seems a point of frustration for
the band.

Says Kilbey, "The Church came out in 1980, and ever since then people have
been saying to me, "What do you think of bands like...." and sometimes it
was the Three O'Clock o the Rain Parade, and sometimes it was the Stone
Roses. You spend a lot of time justifying that position. I find myself drawn
into these 'defining bands' type conversations which I'm not really good at,
or have much time for...if the smallest, most gentle person on earth said,
"I think The Church are a psychedelic band," then Goddamnit, for that
person, we are! Put it that way, if you think we are, then we are."

There certainly is a trippy, ethereal element to them. "I think we're trying
to be an unusual band, or apply some of the aspects of surrealism to what we
do," ponders Kilbey, "and I think another way of saying that is 'trippy'.
We're definitely a band whose music, lyrics, titles and general whole thing
is about something very, very vaguely otherworldly - I'll admit to that.
It's just that The Church is about that feeling that there's something else
going on beneath the shallow veneer of reality, I suppose."

Marty Willson-Piper, owner of a 'massive record collection', and an easier
target for music talk, is also unimpressed with the 'new psychedelia'
spearheaded by the likes of the Stones Roses and the Charlatans. "I've got
their records, but I've got everybody's records, so I don't know if it means
very much."

Longtime Church drummer Richard Ploog was permanently replaced after Gold
Afternoon Fix by American Jay Dee Daugherty, former drummer for the Patti
Smith Group. And the band is rounded out by second guitarist Peter Koppes,
who, like Kilbey, is from Australia. Koppes, Kilbey and Willson-Piper
continue to release loads of solo material of their own, with Willson-Piper
also now an official guitar-playing, songwriting member of the English group
All About Eve, and Kilbey also having released two Hex albums (with Game
Theory's Donnette Thayer) and a Jack Frost album (with ex-Go Between Grand

But the cash to finance much of this solo indulgence comes from their
bi-annual 'real gig' in The Church. And if somebody writes a really good
song in the meantime, are they apt to save that for a solo album? " Oh,
definitely! Definitely, yeah", says Willson-Piper. "You see, the band works
as a bunch of guys who get together to work on a Church record, it's not a
matter of us bringing songs to the group anymore."

But as much as The Church are a collaborative chemistry, as main lyricist
and frontman by default, Steve Kilbey remains a significant portion of the
heart and mind of The Church. And with the imagery of his solo work
frequently even darker than on the group projects, one must wonder about
state of mind.

"What, do you mean does it have something to do with taking drugs?" he coyly
suggests. Either that or..."Well, OK. Some of these things have already been
said to me, so I'll just repeat them..."begins Kilbey.

I'm going to get a pat answer.

"No, you're not!" In fact, I've never said this before. But, one of the
French metaphysical poets said it was his duty, to sort of derange his
senses however he could. And, although we're not working in anything as
lofty as poetry, if a musician wants to explore the stranger aspects of
music - I think you've got to derange your sense, or rearrange them, or make
yourself see the world a different way, whether that is actually taking a
drug, or whether it's sense deprival, or whether it's deliberately remaining
in a kind of an immature musician's frame of mind for your whole life. I
think people achieve it different ways or a combination of different ways"
he confides.

Can you be influenced by, say, your landscape or where you are? "Oh, of
course!" Kilbey announces, "To be someone living here in New York in the
middle of winter, if he got on a plane and jumped out and he was in Thailand
on a hot summer's night, I think that would be totally deranging your sense
just as radically as a drug would."

Is that something that affects you - travelling around? "Travel, yeah, lots.
All the strange things I go through. I'm not influenced by the mundane
things, just the strange things."

Kilbey concludes, "Imagine writing a song is like doing an abstract piece of
art. You throw a bit of red paint on, put on a bit of blue paint, and then
you think, if I just put a bit of purple 'round the blob here, I think it'll
look good! You know what I mean? It's very interpretable. "Maybe things
aren't so complex, after all."
Transcribed by Sue Campbell


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