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Steve talks about interpretation and creativity Print E-mail
Monday, 02 July 1990

Pollstar (USA - Fresno, CA)

July 2, 1990

Interview with Steve Kilbey


The Church has always been surrounded by an air of mystery. The music and the men who play it tend to be elusive and abstract, making lyrics and interviews read like convoluted daydreams. For years the imagination of this Australian quartet was revealed Stateside only to college radio listeners, but the 1988 release of Starfish and the dreamy single ?Under The Milky Way? brought The Church out from the underground. Still, the band remained relatively reclusive and earned an ??? reputation through their reluctance to deal with the media machine that helps the music industry promote its product. When Arista sent out press releases announcing The Church?s new album, Gold Afternoon Fix, singer-songwriter-bass player Steve Kilbey was quoted as saying, ?Suddenly I?m filled with this desire to more or less tell it like it is.? The album was called the most direct and straightforward work of the group?s decade-long career and Steve Kilbey--The Church member who always seemed to revel in being obtuse and difficult--was said to have wanted it that way. ?It?s really hard to say what you intend when making an album,? Kilbey said. ?Often things seem to make sense in hindsight and you give them meanings or you ascribe intentions that perhaps you weren?t quite sure of when you were inventing it. It seemed that afterwards, Gold Afternoon Fix was our most straightforward album.?

One thing has always been clear during the Church?s decade-lone existence; virtually everything they say and do is open to interpretation. Sometimes, the lyrical content and the mood conveyed in a song are not perfectly clear to the person who wrote it. ?The things that we write only have vague meanings for us as well. I might stand on stage and play a song I wrote eight years ago and suddenly it will dawn on me what it was about.? Kilbey said he finds it frustrating to articulate what goes into The Church?s music because the concepts are never black and white. ?I wasn?t really trying to describe the emotion of avarice or make a plea for world peace or anything like that. I think it?s all pretty much interpretable in hindsight,? he said. ?I don?t want to find out everything about something the first time I see it or meet it or hear it or taste it. I want to be able to get into things as much as I want to and extract my own meanings, and that?s the idea of The Church.? The absolute absorption into the music comes across not only in the way the band members speak of their craft, but in their innovative guitar work and fanciful lyrics as well. The three principal members, Kilbey and guitarist-songwriters Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes, create such an imaginative intensity, it?s hard not to become curious about their motives.

?It?s great if people want to ask you anything at all, so on one level its very flattering and enjoyable that people want to find out what you?re doing and why you?ve done it and will ask you all kinds of questions. You?d be a total failure if no one wanted to know anything about what you?re doing,? Kilbey said. ?On the other hand, it?s always kind of disappointing because if you write a song, you can?t usually explain it. If you were saying something explicable in the song, you?d be writing a newspaper article or something. You can?t use concrete language to describe an abstract concept.? Unfortunately, those left with the task of writing about The Church must work within the confines of written and spoken language. That limitation has caused the band to be placed in all sorts of weird pigeon holes. Even in Australia they were perceived as part of the psychedelic revival during their early years. In America, their low profile and moody, multi-textured compositions have created an art band image. ?We?re kind of a funny group,? said Kilbey. ?We get lumped in with all kinds of things, we get lumped in with the gothic movement. I saw this guy the other day that described us as mope rockers. To me moping means sitting at home crying in a towel. At this stage, I think the Church is the Church is the Church. We?re just in there doing our own thing, plowing our own furrow.? When asked if he had a working definition of The Church?s sound, Kilbey lapsed into his elusive mode. ?I can?t be the perceiver, the object and the perception all at once. I can?t pigeonhole myself. If someone needs to do it, I don?t begrudge the,. I don?t think you should form a group and say, ?We?re lampshade rock.? You?ve gotta let other people say what you are.?

The thing that allows this band to transcend the typical guitar-rock genre is the heavy-handed creativity that goes into every song. The Church is not into a minimalist approach. Guitars echo and swirl, bass lines create a mood as well as a tempo and Richard Ploog?s precise drumming adds unexpected flourishes. With every album, The Church adds dimensions to their characteristic sound. ?Music can do things no other art form can do; music is capable of doing things that even musicians don?t understand,? said Kilbey. ?I?ve read so many books about music and people saying it describes the universe in its arithmetic sort of beauty. I don?t know why we like music. I don?t know even why I like music ???, I still don?t even know what music is. If I met someone from another planet and they said, ?What?s music?? I?d sort of half describe it.? As a band, The Church has put out seven albums. As solo artists, Kilbey, Willson-Piper and Koppes have made nine more. Somehow, the well of the imagination has never run low for these three, it only gets deeper. ?It?s everything,? Kilbey said of the band. ?It?s like my life and my wife. We?re like brothers to each other, it?s everything really. It?s hard to imagine life without it. We try not to keep it like three blokes turning up sitting on deck chairs, drinking cups of tea and playing cards. There?s still a lot of fire left in the band and a lot of arguments and a lot of passion, and we deliberately maintain that.? Historically Kilbey has been known as the leader of the group, but Willson-Piper and Koppes have had more and more input over the last two albums. Willson-Piper?s gravelly, energetic voice and jangling guitar and Koppes? almost ethereal approach only enhance The Church?s repertoire and potential. Kilbey still writes the majority of the material but said the band is getting more democratic all the time. ?We?ve grown from the days when it was me calling the shots and it?s gradually changed into this democracy. It?s made us a lot happier to work within the band and made everyone feel a lot better about it. I think this is the way a band should work, I think bands break up because not everyone has a say, and I think the ultimate band is where everyone has an equal say in what?s going on.?

When it comes to the creative process involved in writing songs for The Church, Kilbey said he could only speak for himself. ?I don?t ever think about not being able to write songs. In fact, my ability is growing all the time. I?m on very good relationship with where I get this stuff from and I will make any sacrifice in my personal, professional or business life to safeguard that little hole in the ground where I drag all that stuff out from. I never abuse that because I?m very well aware of what it is and how it should be treated.? Kilbey?s muse can lead Church fans through fantastic journeys across vivid landscapes. His songs cover past, present and future in one fell swoop. And somehow, he and his band mates keep the tone uplifting and provocative. ?I think if there?s one thing you know in this life, it?s that sadness will always follow happiness and I think there?s a need for people to openly share the beauty of the strange triumph of sadness. I would really like to differentiate between sadness and depression, there?s a huge difference. The Church never have made depressing records,? he said. ?You get people who walk around with those little smiling faces, they can?t see the infinite shades of melancholy, sadness and whimsy. They don?t see the difference between al those things. That?s kind of what we specialize in, disappointment and disillusion.?

The Church also specialize in mesmerizing audiences, which is what they?re doing on their current U.S. tour. Drummer Richard Ploog, known for his transient lifestyle, has taken a sabbatical from the group. He has been replaced by Jay Dee Daugherty, formerly of the Patti Smith Group. The Church has been out playing theatres since the end of May and is now on the West Coast leg of the tour. The band is managed by Michael Lembo at Mike?s Artist Management and is booked by Marc Geiger at Triad Artists.

Transcribed by Mike Fulmer

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