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Short interview before Tampa, FL show Print E-mail
Thursday, 27 July 2006
Originally published at Curtis Ross spoke to Steve Kilbey.

The Church missed its shot at the golden ring of pop stardom. Instead, more than 25 years after forming, they're still going strong.

"I guess it's a case of our being in a bit of a unique position," bassist-singer-lyricist Steve Kilbey says by telephone from Santa Barbara, Calif., the morning after opening night on the quartet's current tour.

"We go on making records, and nobody puts any pressure on us to be anything in particular," Kilbey says. "We still love what we do. We don't sort of have anybody saying you should be this or that. We're under the radar."

The band was far closer to the radar's center in 1988 when the shimmering "Under the Milky Way," from "Starfish," became its one and so far only U.S. Top 40 hit.

The band wanted ex-Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones to produce the follow-up. Its management wanted to play it safe by sticking with "Starfish" producers Greg Ladanyi and Waddy Wachtel.

Management prevailed and the result was 1990's "Gold Afternoon Fix," an album rated as mediocre by critics, fans and band alike. The Church's commercial momentum was lost.

"You don't get that many chances," Kilbey says with a sigh. "By the time we came with the next album [1992's "Priest = Aura"], the record we should have made after 'Starfish,' it was kind of too late.

"Suddenly you had to be from Seattle and wearing a flannel shirt," Kilbey quips.

The Church was as unlikely to follow grunge as any other trend. It's been going its own way since Kilbey, guitarists Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes and original drummer Nick Ward (soon replaced by Richard Ploog) formed in 1980 in the aftermath of punk.

The group was more influenced by psychedelia and the ringing guitars of '60s bands such as The Byrds than the rama-lama power chords of punk.

Kilbey also cites "the glam thing of the '70s, bands like Bebop Deluxe that were just before punk," as well as punk-era explorers Patti Smith and Television, as touchstones for The Church's sound.

Smith's drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, in fact, joined The Church for a while in the '90s, replacing Ploog. Tim Powles now handles the skins.

"Punk was great. I liked it at the time but it's not the kind of music I wanted to play," Kilbey says. "But there wasn't much to do after 'Anarchy in the U.K.' You'd immediately painted yourself into an artistic corner."

The Church avoided that fate as its most recent album, this year's "Uninvited, Like the Clouds," attests. The band still can conjure a gauzy psychedelic spell but it can also bristle with aggression, as on opening track "Block."

Besides, punk-level amplification would relegate half The Church to the touring sidelines.

"Tim and I both have tinnitus," a persistent ringing in the ear, Kilbey says. It's one reason The Church's current U.S. tour is acoustic. "I don't think we could handle five weeks of electric."


The Church

WITH: Rob Dickinson

WHEN: Thursday, 8 p.m.

WHERE: State Theatre, 687 Central Ave., St. Petersburg

TICKETS: $25 advance, $27 day of show; box office, (727) 895-3045; Ticketmaster, (813) 287-8844

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