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Steve talks to Mike Gee about 25th anniversary Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 July 2004
I found this interview on music journalist Mike Gee's blog at http://themarrow.blogspot.com/ - I hope it's OK to copy it here, Mike. THE CHURCH

By MIKE GEE

Steve Kilbey does a fairly ordinary imitation of Telecom conference director hooking up an interview, then realises he's a day early and disappears, "Tomorrow, see you." Kilbey and I go back the stretch to the first tour of WA by his band, the inimitable Church. He was lounging buy the pool in a motel at the foot of King's Park and he was tripping off his face. Steve dropped more than few tabs of acid in those early days and has had an on/off relationship with drugs ever since that has seen him in a couple of America's better drug rehab centres drying out. The stories he tells about those weeks are as wickedly funny as they are scary and frightening.
Sometimes it seemed like he would end up a complete nutter and, God knows, the band has gone close enough to imploding a few times, especially during the Steve and Marty (Willson-Piper, guitarist) wars that saw them belting each other around on stage on a few occasions.
But they've seen it through. A few drummers have been and gone before Tim Powles settled in the seat, seemingly for good, but Kilbey, Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes (bass) are still together and making some of the best, if not THE best, of their lengthy, closing on 25 years, career.
So I love this band; I love their dreamy guitar pop, their star-spangled outbursts of sheer musical wankery where they let it all wind out and prove that there's nothing wrong with a good nine-minute bliss-out when the playing is good enough to carry it and the architecture of the song supports it. At their best the Church are as good as any band on the planet and they are still making vital, innovative, smart, effervescent and insouciant music. Sure, they fuck up along the way and sometimes get all caught up in their own smarts, but mostly they leave you gobsmacked at just how far they have come. What a long strange trip it's been.
Kilbey is an enigmatic bastard, prone to taking the piss out of you when he can get a clear shot in and just as likely to bare his soul if he thinks you really do deserve a straight answer.
Life in recent times, he says, has been up and down, as always. "Life is not meant to be easy," he says. "Malcolm Fraser taught me that ... "
He's been living in Bondi for several years now in a couple of different places and last time we talked waxed lyrical about the colours in the feathers of the birds and the sky, and admitted to 'getting' nature. A splendid thing.
Meanwhile, the band has been whacking out albums like there is no tomorrow.
It began the new century with After Everything Now This (2001), followed up with Parallel Universe (2002) - 10 alternate outcomes for tracks from the 2001 album, launched into another studio set, Forget Yourself (2003), which has spawned the recently released (and, I think, sold out), Beside Yourself - a collection of b-sides, rarities and unreleased tracks from the Forget Yourself sessions, and on top of that there is the Internet-only CD Jammed - 60 minutes of two jam sessions, and the soon to be released, acoustic-only, El Momento Descuidado, which is part of Liberation's acoustic blues series.
Beside Yourself features three brand new songs (Jazz - do you think this is good, Tel Aviv and Illusion Mysteries), the iPod exclusives Crash/Ride and Nervous Breakthrough, the rare Hitspacebar, the truly brooding Cantilever, the instrumentals Moodertronic and the epic 14-minute plus Serpenteasy, described on the band's website as a voyage to the bottom of Tim Powles musical psyche.
Crikey, talk about pumping it out.
"Yep, we are all happy," Kilbey says. "Very productive. It's easier to write new songs than remember old songs." It's a subtle dig at the fuss that's gone on over the last few years over Kilbey's decision not to perform live any of the band's old - and revered - material. "El Momento Descuidado could have been a hokey idea. We didn't give it much thought and winged it, and it came out really nicely."
Jammed sparks a discussion about the current jam band phenomenon and the rise and rise of John Butler and his fellow surfing fraternity contemporaries such as Donovan Frankenreiter.
"I've noticed when I go to Bondi Beach in the mornings that there are a few extra spots in the water, and few extra spaces on the walls of guitar shops. I saw an article on how to convert a surfboard into a guitar." There is a silence. I bite. He's joking. "I'll tell you what though - all us musicians out here are admitting all these surfers into our ranks but try swimming out with eyeliner and jet black dyed hair and they won't let us into theirs.
"You know, I got punched out on a board once. I got into somebody's way, apologised when this guy paddled up, yelling at me, and 'bang' ..."
Steve Kilbey, surfer, wow. Let it all hangout.
But see this is where Kilbey shines. Despite the rampant cynicism and dry humour, he has an acute eye for life. Cop this: "Sitting in the sauna at Bondi Icebergs you can watch the surfers ride from side on. They are describing these incredible arabesques in the surf, and only they know it. I've got a lot of respect for them. Some of them are real artists."
A bit like The Church, who now sport a splendidly visual stage show that's put together by Canadian photography professor who takes a stack of field photos and cuts them up and rearranges them. The end result is then projected on screen - as the band plays on. Trippy stuff. All part of the new improved Church.
Frankly, Kilbey has no idea why they have finally got it all together: "Actually, we could lose anybody but me ," he mugs, "but, seriously, we've been through so much and hopefully come out the other end, I hope. Rock bands are fragile things, held together by strange bonds and ties. You don't know when somebody is going to come in and say 'I've found Jesus' or 'I'm moving to blah blah blah' or 'I've been diagnosed with ... ' So we go on." To the 25th anniversary. "I'm going to give the other guys a silver ring each and get my hair done," he says. "To me rock'n'roll and 25th anniversaries are mutually exclusive." Smoke curls out of his ears. Kilbey and time. It's a difficult one. The punk in Steve - and there is one - doesn't want to accept that there is immense achievement in staying together so long, as long as you are doing something creative. You can tell him that The Church deserve a bloody huge pat on their guitar pop and rock backs, that they count, their achievements matter, that music needs such lifers, and people don't snigger behind their backs, but then he'll say, "Yeah, your interpretation is nice and one way of looking at things, I admit, but the other way is the whole Lester Bangs [legendary music writer], live fast die young thing, that rock'n'roll is an ephemeral thing about the moment, and by hanging on you are betraying it. I'd hate to think we were.
"It's a real dilemma. Life is a constant juggling act. I'm still juggling."
Aren't we all.
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