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Steve talks about re-approaching music, drugs and Remindlessness Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 May 1990

The Church: Steve Kilbey?s Confessions
The Edge Magazine
May 1990

For more than a decade now The Church have been the quiet achievers of Australian rock, building an impressive back catalogue and drawing accolades from people like REM?s Peter Buck. From time to time they?ve surprised one and all with the odd chart gem like Under The Milky Way and at the same time suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism for being the purveyors of ?boring psychedelia?. Undaunted, they continue to pursue a wide variety of solo projects while continuing as a band.

This is a good time to interview Church lead singer and bass guitarist Steve Kilbey. Not only is there a new Church album, Gold Afternoon Fix, in the shops but Kilbey recently released a double solo album titled Remindlessness. Sitting on his back verandah, overlooking the tangled greenery of his garden, any thoughts of Kilbey as a reticent, surly
?artiste? are quickly dispelled. Steve talked away happily about everything from books to drugs, questioned the therapeutic
effects of coffee, and complained that interviewers never asked him about sex. Oh, and he told a few good jokes too.


THE EDGE: First of all, can you tell me a bit about the word ?remindlessness??
STEVE KILBEY: Well, I was just thinking of the word ?mindlessness? and started adding prefixes. It just came out sounding like a good word. It doesn?t really mean anything. There was a Move song where one of the lyrics was, ?so full of emptiness without her.? I liked the idea of something being full of emptiness. I don?t think remindlessness is
really like that, but it was better than calling the album Steve Kilbey Rocks On or Steve Kilbey 4.


THE EDGE: When you first started doing solo stuff, did you think ?I?ve got these songs and they?re not appropriate for the Church? or did you think ?I?m going to write a solo album??
STEVE KILBEY: You write songs and you want people to play them. If your band can?t play them all, or don?t want to play them all, you?ve got to let them out, otherwise there?s no point in writing them. You get into a situation where you think, ?Well, I might as well not bother writing this song because no one?s going to get to hear it.? That?s a bit frustrating, so I do them at home and put them out on Red Eye and people who want them can have them. There?s no big hoo-ha over it. Everyone knows by now what they?re getting if they buy my records.


THE EDGE: What about the songs on Remindlessness? Were any of those songs ever intended for the Church?
STEVE KILBEY: No. I don?t even think about the Church. When the Church write once or twice a year, our manager rings us up and says, ?You guys are going to be in such-and-such a place and you?re going to write a new album.? So we go ?alright? and we meet up and write the album. Prior to that and after that I don?t even think about it. I come home and work on the lyrics to the Church songs and that?s it. That?s just the way the democracy demanded it. It?s my idea as much as everybody else?s. We?ve got a band, everybody wants to write, so we?ll all write together or not at all.


THE EDGE: Last time I talked to you was before the band was heading off to America to make Starfish. I came away from that interview thinking that the Church wasn?t going to be around for too much longer. You said you had the seven year itch, and that you?d record that album and then think about the future.
STEVE KILBEY: Well, you know the old showbiz saying that you?re only as good as your last album. Well, I guess as soon as you do something that?s successful, why rock the boat? You do something for so long and finally get some success. It?s easy to keep a band together if you?re successful.


THE EDGE: Is that all the Church is to you now? The way you were describing it before, with your manager ringing up, you going into the studio, writing the songs, recording them and then getting on with your life... it sounds almost like a day job.
STEVE KILBEY: No, not at all. It?s more like a special occasion, I would say. I said we go in and write some songs, but that?s a glossing over of three or four weeks of intense creativity between the people in the band, a lot of thought and arguments and jokes and everything going into it. It?s not like four robots - or three robots as it is now - just walking in and plugging in.


THE EDGE: Speaking of the fourth robot, what?s happening with Richard Ploog (the Church drummer)?
STEVE KILBEY: Richard?s having a holiday for a year basically. Like anyone having a holiday you hope they?re going to come back, but sometimes they like it where they are and they stay there.


THE EDGE: No Such Thing from Remindlessness seems to be tongue-in-cheek. Would Steve Kilbey in real life be the exact opposite to most of the things the narrator in that song is talking about?
STEVE KILBEY: I think Steve Kilbey, at different times and under the influence of different types of drugs and different types of social pressures, can be a hippy trippy philosopher or a straight ?I won?t believe it until I see it? type of person. And anywhere between those two poles too. It?s just that most people tend to assume one persona on a record and follow it through to the bitter end. I like to let all of my sides come out if they want to. That song had kind of a rappy feel to it and it seemed good to let the cynic out and put down the rest of the record, and put it there on the end. People can go along thinking ?Yeah, this is Kilbey?s normal psychedelic nonsense?, then all of a sudden there?s a guys saying that it?s all rubbish.


THE EDGE: Do you think people really do see your music as psychedelic nonsense?
STEVE KILBEY: I don?t think that people who really like and understand what I do think that I?m hippy, trippy and psychedelic. But I think the people who might be reading The Edge might not be the people who know, love and understand what I do - if there are any left at all, I don?t know. You?ve got to pigeon-hole people with quick snappy
phrases to talk about them, and I guess that?s the way I?m seen. I?d rather be that than a meat-headed pub rocker. I guess on the surface what I do, and what other people like me do, is hippy trippy psychedelic stuff. But to aficionados of that genre - and in that phrase I?ve mixed some Spanish and French, so you should be impressed by that - they would understand the many subtle variations. They would understand that there?s an absolute universal difference between what I do and, what say, Dave Faulkner does. Whenever there?s an article on me or the Hoodoo Gurus we seem to get thrown in together, yet it?s a whole different thing. In fact, I think I?ve got my own little niche. I doemphasis the word ?little?, but I have defined my own little thing a bit

.
THE EDGE: Last time we talked, your book Earthed had just come out, and you told me about your next idea for a book called The Amphibian. I notice that it?s turned up as a song on Remindlessness. Whatever happened to the book?
STEVE KILBEY: I think that the most grandiose thing you can do is make a film, and the second most grandiose thing you can do is write a book, and the third most grandiose thing you can do is write a song, and after that comes the title of a song, the lyric in a song, a single poem and then last of all the scratch on the middle of a record. That?s
my hierarchy of things. So if I think of a really good thing like, ?I?m going to write a book called The Amphibian,? then it never materialises and breaks down halfway through, then it gets demoted one step and becomes a song. It could?ve gone all the way down the line to just being a scratch - in fact something about The Amphibian did get
scratched onto one record - then it got re-promoted up to being a song.The good thing about writing a song is that you don?t get time to suddenly doubt it. It?s written and recorded in a couple of hours and you keep up your belief in it. But when you start writing a book you can get this horrible revelation that the whole thing?s incredibly stupid. It can be very disheartening. I don?t know if you feel like this, but I feel totally different to the person I was yesterday. When I look back at what I wrote six months ago I just can?t understand the person at all. I don?t know what they were trying to get at. Sometimes that works to such an extent that you almost feel guilty about using something you wrote a long time ago. You feel that it wasn?t you who actually wrote it.


THE EDGE: If you feel different every day you must look at your own work objectively rather than subjectively...
STEVE KILBEY: Yeah, I look back on things very harshly and I can?t really enjoy anything I?ve done.


THE EDGE: Really?
STEVE KILBEY: Well, you always know all the mechanisms behind it. It?s like knowing that your dad dressed up in that Santa Claus outfit. Suddenly it?s not the same anymore.


THE EDGE: Does that mean you don?t listen to Church records or Steve Kilbey records after they?ve been made?
STEVE KILBEY: I listen to them a bit... I think this is the thing where musicians and drugs come in, which is very much misunderstood by everybody. Musicians take drugs so they can re-experience and re-discover themselves and their music. I think the reason I liked to get stoned every night before I played was so I could keep approaching it in a fresh way instead of it becoming a block of stone around my neck. After a while I doesn?t matter what you drink or take, some of the songs become worn out, there?s nothing you can do to approach them in a different way and then you?ve got to stop doing them. The Church don?t do a lot of their older songs anymore and people complain about
that, but I think it?s better to let them rest in peace than do what someone like Bob Dylan does when he drags out a song and gives it a good beating on stage with absolutely no feeling whatsoever.


THE EDGE: You were talking about drugs earlier. Do they play an integral part in your music?
STEVE KILBEY: It?s very hard to talk about this subject without being sensationalist. I think all musicians that go on tour a lot and spend a long time in studios take drugs of one description or another, even if it?s just lot?s of coffee. Just lately I?ve been producing an album for Kaarin from Curious (Yellow) and you can be in the studio and have three cups of coffee on an empty stomach and that gives you a feeling that?s stronger than a lot of the dope I?ve smoked. I think it?s really impossible to be a musician for a long time without resorting to something to prop you up. We went on the road with Tom Verlaine, who doesn?t drink or take any drugs at all, but he was smoking about 50 cigarettes a day and drinking hundreds of cups of coffee. Even though he says he doesn?t take drugs at all, he?s permanently
wired. I don?t want to sensationalise the whole thing. Yes, big deal, I smoke dope. So does everyone I grew up with, all my friends, and about 99 percent of people under 45 that I know in Australia. It?s no secret. Smoking pot enhances the pleasure of listening to music for some people. For me it enhances my pleasure in writing music and lyrics. I don?t think that?s very extraordinary. If you go down to any rehearsal room or studio you?ll probably find someone in there
smoking a joint. It?s no different to having a beer, except we live in this society where the old males say you can?t have this one but you can have this one. I don?t think marijuana is good for you - it?s bad for your lungs and stuff like that, but it certainly makes creating music a more interesting process and I also enjoy listening to music in that state.


THE EDGE: Do you find that you always smoke pot when you?re making music?
STEVE KILBEY: Yeah, I usually get stoned before I make music. But that?s like someone else saying, ?I have a beer
before I play darts.? That wouldn?t be a sensational remark. But when this article comes out the main thing?s probably going to read, ?I always get stoned before I make music,? suddenly it assumes this sinister thing where I?m recommending people?s kids do it or something. It?s just part of the way things get done in the circle I move in. There still seems to be this ?60s hangover of ?Musician talks about drugs! Shock! Horror!? for something as boring as smoking pot, which people have been doing for a long, long time. There?s nothing sensational about it, because normally after writing a song you just fall asleep. Anyway, why doesn?t anyone ever ask me about sex? They never do! It?s always drugs and psychedelia!


THE EDGE: OK, do you find that having sex before you write songs is good?
STEVE KILBEY: No...

THE EDGE: After? During?
STEVE KILBEY: Nnooo... it?s just that The Edge always seems to have an article on how to have an orgasm. I?m quite affronted to think that I don?t seem to have any sexual relevance to anyone. When they talk to Axl Rose or Michael Hutchence it?s always, ?How much sex do you get?? With me it?s, ?How many joints do you smoke?? Never mind...

--Transcribed by David Basch - thanks!

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 03 May 2005 )
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