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The Church?s Crusade: 1984 Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 January 1984


Unknown Source



The Church?s Crusade

Yes, they?re another Australian band, but no, they?re not cute or bald.

by Jon Young

You can?t accuse the Church?s Steve Kilbey of thinking small. ?I don?t want to excite people. I don?t want to make them happy. I don?t want to make them sad. I just want to take them to that ?other place,?? explains the leader of this Australian quartet. ?I don?t know what that is, exactly, but you hear certain records and they make you think things you never thought before.?

A lofty declaration of intent perhaps, but the Church have the potential to deliver. Theoretically, their combination of ringing 12-string guitars and Kilbey?s wistful, head-in-the-clouds vocals doesn?t suggest anything out of the ordinary, but in practice the results are often magical. Their new LP, Remote Luxury, invites descriptions like ?dreamy? and ?haunting? while preserving the underlying sense of urgency that drives traditional rock & roll.

Unlike other Sixties-influenced musicians, singer-songwriter-bassist Kilbey is quick to own up to his inspirations. ?The way the Byrds did ?Mr. Tambourine Man? is the archetype of what I?m going for,? he admits. ?When I make an album, I?m after that ethereal, otherworldly glimpse. I?ve failed a lot, but I keep on trying.?

Essentially newcomers in America, the Church are regarded by some as a spent force back in Australia, having already run the gamut from hit records to major flops in just a few years. The 30 year-old Kilbey?s musical history stretches back considerably farther than that. The son of English parents who emigrated to Canberra, Australia, nearly three decades ago, he began working in local rock and cabaret bands in 1970. Pursuing various unsuccessful projects throughout the early- and mid-Seventies, Kilbey reached a turning point when his day job went up in smoke. ?I worked in the public as a computer programming assistant--at least, that?s what I was called,? he laughs. ?Actually, I didn?t do anything but hang around and write lyrics. I even wrote a program that composed poetry.?

Deprived of gainful employment in 1976, Kilbey moved to Sydney, which had a more prosperous music scene, and inaugurated a two-pronged campaign of musical betterment. First, he used his 4-track tape machine to create ????, experimental electronic instrumentals. I must have rewritten and recorded Another Green World 9,000 different ways in my bedroom. I was totally uncommercial and esoteric.?

At the same time, he pursued a more public path via the Church, recruiting guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper and, later, drummer Richard Ploog. However, the band was only marginally more accessible than his Enoesque excesses, according to Kilbey. ?We were pretty scrappy,? he notes. ?We never bothered tuning the guitars properly, so a lot of people never got past the initial roughness.?

Finally, discouraged by poorly attended live gigs and on the verge of disbanding, the Church blew their last $30 on a demo tape. As if by magic, EMI Australia signed them up. Even more amazing, their 1981 debut LP, Of Skins and Heart, was a hit. In the States, Capitol released the LP as The Church and watched it sink without a trace, dropping the band soon afterward. Back home, though, Kilbey and company were just getting started. The Blurred Crusade, a further refinement of their elegant Byrds update, was hailed by partisans as a masterpiece. Alas, the Church alienated its substantial domestic following with subsequent releases: Sing-Songs, an unpolished live-in-the-studio EP, and Seance, a moody, widescreen LP Kilbey compares to the work of Ingmar Bergman.

Remote Luxury returns the band to an even keel, preserving the hypnotic textures of Seance while incorporating some of the less forbidding pop strains of their debut. Not so coincidentally, it?s also brought them another American record deal, this time with Warner Bros. Kilbey concedes that timing may have played a part, since another Byrds-influenced band has already paved the way for the Church?s brand of guitar rock. ?As much as I loathe being compared to R.E.M.--not because I don?t like them, but because I don?t see any benefit in it--I do think Warner Bros. is thinking of us in similar terms.?

For his part, Kilbey is ready and willing to reach out to a larger audience and shed his cult status. He says the tunes on Remote Luxury are ?more streamlined? by design. ?Those earlier songs were great for people who had the time to sit down and listen, but this is such an immediate world we?re living in. I want to make short, powerful statements, rather than long, meandering, dreamy ones. It?s time for the Church to stop messing about and hit home.

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