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Steve speaks about philosophy, esp. about Conception Print E-mail
Monday, 31 July 2006

This fascinating interview was originally published at Saffron Journal - this is the first part of the interview, of which JJ says...

I thought it would be interesting to discuss the process of creation, both in art and in life, with Steve. What follows is the first of a three-part interview focused around the stages of creation: conception, incubation, and birth.

Steve Kilbey Interview Pt.1: Conception

Steve Kilbey is best known as the bassist and lead singer of the Australian psychedelic rock band ?The Church?. He is also a solo recording artist, producer, painter, pro blogger, poet, and actor. Additionally, he is the father of five; including two sets of twins.
SELF PORTRAIT, Winter By The Sea
24" x 18", Iridescent pastel

During my acid drenched youth, Steve Kilbey was my musical guru for a number of years. I first met him briefly after my first Church show in Tampa, Florida in 1988, while the band was touring for Starfish, their 6th and most popular album. I remember to this day being so impressed by the space and dynamic that they created live; the mixture of raw emotion, melody, insight and noise. After that, I was compelled to own every album, single and rare b-side. Every little message etched in the vinyl groove was yet another clue to my inner search. Steve Kilbey?s lyrics and melodies were rich with a symbolic, synchronistic quality that seemed to be directly related to my life. His solo album Remindlessness became a cherished talisman for my psychedelic experiences and served as a vehicle of inner transformation on countless listens. It's one of his best albums, yet only a handful of people will actually ever hear it the way it was meant to be heard.

I followed The Church around on tour and got to hang out with Steve and the band on numerous occasions. As I got more and more into my own music, and Kilbey?s music became darker, I became disillusioned and trusted him with my psyche less and less. I finally wrote him a questioning and somewhat confrontational letter about this dark period and my disillusionment with the musical path he had chosen. Since then, Steve and I have conversed sporadically in different contexts and to varying depths on subjects ranging from rock stars to drugs to food and travel to God.

The 'dark period' is over, Jah be praised, and Steve and The Church sound better than ever musically, lyrically, and spiritually. The Church has just started their 2006 US tour supporting their latest CD Uninvited Like the Clouds, their umpteenth album in 26 years of working together as a band.

I thought it would be interesting to discuss the process of creation, both in art and in life, with Steve. What follows is the first of a three-part interview focused around the stages of creation: conception, incubation, and birth.

SK: Hello
JW: Hello steve
SK: Yeah, how are ya?
JW: Good, how are you?
SK: I?m good mate, I?m good.
JW: Are you free?
SK: I?m free. I?m free; better start asking?
JW: I?m not really an experienced interviewer.
SK: No kidding?

JW: Should I just get into the questions? Do you wanna ask me anything?
SK: Just go for it.

JW: When you consider the theme of conception, what naturally comes to mind for you?

SK: I think conception is an incredibly interesting concept (laughs), especially conception of ideas because you can always follow ideas back to a certain point and then beyond that you lose them.

I think we can?t always witness the conception of things. I think it?s a very mysterious process. Also, on another level, being the father of two sets of twins, the idea of conception has fascinated me. The fact the with my first set of twins, one sperm fertilized one egg and they split into two different people and with my second set of twins, two sperm fertilized two different eggs. So, once again, a very mysterious process. By the way, they still don?t know why in identical twins the egg splits at all. There?s no reason for it. I always think; I guess this is kind of a new agey explanation; two souls had some kind of equal claim, maybe, all their data added up so they could both have that thing and say ?ok, we sort of goes halves in it? or something. Or another explanation could be two absolute arch enemies who have been feuding for a long time, maybe over many sets of lives, not learning their lesson and they?re finally kind of thrown together in that way to deal with it.

JW: Work it out eh? Do you remember the point of conception of any of your children?

SK: Vaguely. Looking back on it, it?s easy to, um, but not really. Once again, after you?ve looked back on it and thought about it a few times, you can attribute feelings that you might not have really had at the time, You know what I mean? It?s a bit like when I write my blog and I write about my teenage years when people were telling me that I wasn?t ever going to get anywhere and I sort of write it now as if I always knew I would. You know what I mean?
To tell you the truth, at the time I thought, ?Well maybe they?re right. Maybe I am never going to get anywhere?. When you think back to how you were feeling about things in the past, it?s very hard not to color it with this kind of hindsight that you?re giving to your previous self that he didn?t really have.

JW: I almost had a couple of children before in rather painful relationship situations, but there were times when the woman got pregnant?

SK: You feel the energy leave you yeah?

JW: I also remember feeling like a Being was actually contacted. Like the Book of the Dead?

SK: I know what you mean. It?s like when you fire an arrow at a distant thing and you actually hit it. And you?re sort of surprised when you realize what it feels like when you hit something with an arrow and you weren?t necessarily expecting that.

JW: I remember at least once when I was like, ?Oh shit, we just brought something down?, you know because it was such ?blissful union?(sarcastically) when in fact it was irresponsible.

Have you ever read any of the Books of the Dead?

SK: I?ve read the Tibetan Book of the Dead. And I?ve read some of the one you sent me, The American Book of the Dead.

JW: Oh yeah, I sent that to you.

SK: Yeah. I?ve read a bit of those books. I imagine it could be something like that, sort of finding your way back into bodies, as is described; how it all works?How you?re attracted to people having sex somewhere and the next thing you know, ?Bang? you?re back in there. It could be something like that I am sure.

JW: Like habits or choosing conscious wombs of people in tantric union?.
Do you think there is such a thing as an accidental conception?

SK: (Sighs) That gets back to the broader question of ?Is there such a thing as an accident?? Um, and there schools of philosophy that say, ?No, there are no accidents. Everything that happens is exactly what was going to happen.?
I guess on that level there aren?t. I guess on the ordinary day to day level I guess there are. There are ones that just shouldn?t have happened. Those poor fetuses are aborted and it?s like they never were. I guess they are accidents because I can?t see that they ever amount to anything. I can?t see that a three week old fetus could work off any karma or be really sort of?..yeah, I don?t think?.if anybody was to ask me, even though I?ve got five children, at what stage do I think the consciousness enters the fetus, I wouldn?t know. I wouldn?t know when that person becomes a person and I wouldn?t know when to define abortion as murder or just late birth control. I can?t really find any of those answers in myself and I don?t pretend to know and once again, conception is a mystery to me as far as those things go.

JW: You?re talking of accidents and I was thinking of two things musically. Sometimes when I am writing a song; some I toil over long periods of time and some come down in a flash. And especially when you?re playing live with people there?s what I term ?happy accidents? where one bad note?.

SK: I never toil. I never toil. I never have toiled. I may have toiled in the early days and maybe that?s why nothing happened. If I find myself toiling then I know I am on the wrong track cause it?s all pretty much fallen out of the sky for me these days and (laughs) my critics go, ?Yeah and it shows.? Yeah, no, hardly any of that. It all just comes out.

Of course, sometimes I have to go back once that?s happened, once I?ve plucked the song out of the air or it?s been given to me or whatever or my subconscious has realized it and offered it to my conscious mind and with the rest of the band too when we write together.
Of course, after I have that block of marble to work on, I have to do a bit of toiling, go back and use the ol? left side of the brain to sort of chip away at it a little, you know what I mean, shape it a bit. In that sense, or say, having to sing a song like 50 times because you?re not singing it right, in that sense I toil. But in the actual act of creation, I would never toil and if I feel like I am toiling, I would think, ?Fuck, I don?t like this.? You know what I mean?

JW: Yup. Do you know what I mean by the whole happy accident thing?

SK: Happy accident? Everything?s a happy accident.

JW: I?m referring to?.I?ve seen it in various bands before. I used to go see the Grateful Dead, and I termed them the ?Masters of the Happy Accident? because like, Jerry Garcia would hit one bad note and all of a sudden the whole band and audience would just trip into another dimension because of this weird synchronistic occurrence.

SK: That?s what its all about. That?s what a good ensemble of players should be able to do. Every song that The Church has ever written since we started writing together on ?Heyday? was written by a happy accident. Someone would pick up and start playing and while he was doing that someone would pick up their instrument and do something and then the other guys would join in and you?d get a whole lot of happy accidents. Then you get some happy accidents of lyrics and you chuck it all together and you get songs that should make you happy. You know? To me, when I hear a song that?s been toiled over it makes me feel the pressure of the toil. You know what I mean?

JW: Yeah.

SK: Like surely a child born to a couple, as you say, in joyous tantric union, is going to be a better child than say, a couple who are trying to have a baby for the sake of it, like every Thursday night. That?s the toiling approach. So, yeah, happy accidents are the only way I work at all really.

JW: I just know for myself, my toiling process comes when the stuff is already recorded and then I start editing parts and adding parts and then you have to mix it?..

SK: Yeah, that is toiling. That is more perspiration than inspiration and that needs to be done. But the actual point, the important thing? see, the thing is, you can get a lot of different people to toil on it but as long as you have that basic beautiful thing, you can a hundred of different producers and mixers and whatevers in to toil over it for you and you?ll get different results with every one. You see, with The Church, we made those albums with those idiots in California and we were still The Church. They toiled away at it and changed it in their way. Different people have toiled away at us, but the basic thing that we do; we do on our own, we do by ?happy accident? and we enjoy creating together.

JW: Yeah, it definitely shows for sure.

SK: I think so. I think it does. I think that?s why people write to us and they?re often quite surprised, going ? I can?t believe it. I just bought your new record and it?s good! Like I really wasn?t expecting it to be?, because sooner or later all bands start to make records and for some reason the joy of creation goes out of the band and it?s a good career and they?re got their trademark and they?ve got their thing they do, but the actual thrill of playing with each other for some reason goes. Not always that; The Rolling Stones probably love playing together, but they can?t seem to create anything that feels real. And for some reason The Church sort of just had this accidental chemistry where we sort of go on getting friction out of each other and we keep generating enough ideas between us to where the small amount of people who buy us kind of can see that we ?re actually improving against all odds.
Steve Kilbey circa 1988, Photo by Greg Allen

JW: I would agree. Especially ?Forget Yourself. That was the best thing in aeons.

SK: Yeah, it certainly had a useful kind of energy and some of the reviews said that. That if this had been a young bunch of guys, you wouldn?t have been surprised. We still can sort of muster up some indie angsty energy and some sort of ?Sturm und Drang?.

JW: What?s that second thing you said?

SK: ?Sturm und Drang?. It?s a German phrase, you?ll have to look it up. It?s a sort of Wagnerian, meaning thunder and stuff. Anyway, that?s the surprising thing about us is that we still sort of care. Like much the way when you first get a band together when you?re 19, you really fucking care. All the time you?re going over your manifesto and you?re making sure everyone?s sticking to it in every way. Well, we?ve never stopped being like that; well, we?ve gone a little soft on it maybe, but we?ve never stopped having this manifesto that our number one priority is to make fucking good music that nobody?s heard before within the rock idiom, you know? And if we find ourselves sounding like anybody else, we stop it.

It?s the quickest way; if we?re jamming a song, we?re writing a song and someone in the band says, ?Oh god, this sounds just like blah blah blah?, then that?s it, fuck it, we stop.

So, our originality, which was once upon a time, as I believed, were all rock band?s manifesto; number one, beyond everything else, was originality and in the 1960?s after the Beatles happened, if you didn?t have some originality, especially in the later days, it was expected that you?d do your own kind of twist on things. But bands as they kind of get older and older and older, become this bland old thing and they wear pastel clothes and they have short haircuts and beer bellies and stuff and they no longer have the bite of their youth. Somehow, (laughs) we still have a little bite.


And you know, there are some old fellows who have bite and it?s great, because an old fellow with bite is not the same as an angry young man, but it can still be like your Dylans and your Cohens or your Neil Young or I guess your David Bowie on a good day.

JW: He?s getting there again.

SK: Yeah.

JW: Were you ever into the Moody Blues?

SK: Yeah, but not for a long long time. (laughs)

JW: They put out Christmas album last year.

SK: Geez. Geez.

JW: That?s disappointing to me.

SK: If you ever catch me doing that, kick me in the ass will ya? Just walk up and kick me in the ass and say, ?Fuck you, you deserve it.?

JW: I saw King Crimson a couple of years ago and they were still rippin?

SK: Robert Fripp?s still got it. He?s still got that thing. His number one thing is he?s a musician and he wants to play some good music and he doesn?t care about anything else and that?s the way it should be as far as I am concerned.

JW: Here?s an interesting question; how long does conception last? I don?t even know if I understand that question, but it?s an interesting question.

SK: Um, I think it?s an instant. I think it?s an instant like, when something dies; one instant you?re alive, the next minute you?re gone you know? And I think conception is the same thing; it?s like one minute it ain?t there and the next minute it is and that?s why it?s so hard to fucking pin down because it?s such a quick instant you know? You have to be looking really hard to catch it.

JW: Like a flash.

SK: Yeah.

JW: I guess like the Sufis who talk about longing, or whoever talks of longing,?..touching that flash again.

SK: Yeah, it?s very addictive.

'THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING', 24" x 19", Mixed Media-pastel, gouache

JW: Reminds me again of going to Dead shows and everyone being in a psychedelic state together, especially there when there was nitrous oxcide.
It?s very interesting when everyone does it at the same time. We would kind of all go into that pool of consciousness; that point. That?s pretty much the only way I could describe it and that brings me back to you saying it?s addictive because that point of light; you melt into the absolute.

SK: Sometimes it takes you a while to figure out what was happening.
Anyway come on then, that?s enough about that.

JW: Here?s an interesting one: What is the nature of the existence of a thing before it is conceived? And there?s a second part and maybe that brings us back around to what we were just talking about and that is; at what point is it actually called conception?

SK: Good question.
That?s a good question. What is something before it is conceived? It?s just disparate things; that?s what it is. Just like after the spark of whatever it was leaves, it falls back again just to be an aggregate of it?s composites, but somehow the act of conception pulls together either a sperm and an egg or some chords and some words and some beats or a bit of paint and some paper or some dance movements or some subtractions from a block of marble or whatever your medium is. It brings together a whole lot of disparate things that once were just fucking tubes and blobs of paint in an art shop or guitar strings on the shelf in a music shop. Suddenly, through the intent of one or more creators these disparate things are brought together, so no longer is it just a guitar string and a word and a voice and a beat. Suddenly all those things have no existence on their own anymore, but they?ve all been pulled together into a song just like the sperm and the egg that created you and the ones that created me no longer exist and all the things they brought into it became us. So that?s my answer to that, because most creation draws on something. Even ideas draw on little bits and pieces of other ideas so, what things are before the act of conception are the bits and pieces that were necessary for them all to be pulled into one object.

JW: Like with tantra, with music, before you go in to write a song or conceive a song, do you do anything like a ritual or an invocation or anything before?

SK: My ritual is to smoke a joint. That?s my ritual because it takes care of everything on every level. That is a ritual to me because I am about to write some music so I am going to roll a joint and smoke it. But there is a ritual in rolling dope or taking any drug or even for the guys in the band who go next door and buy beer. ?Ok, we?re going to write some music. Ok, I?m going to go buy a six pack of beer.? That?s a ritual as well. Or even if someone says, ?Ok, I?m going to get a cup of coffee.? They are all things that you do, so I guess, yeah, I do have rituals before I write. It works as ritual and it also works as a sort of something that gets the right side of my brain bouncing around. But as far as a meditation or maybe asking some God or Goddess for success, I haven?t really gotten into that much.

JW: Just an invocation to open yourself up?I don?t smoke very often anymore; I did in Hawaii; but every time I do I at least touch it with my third, my heart and then my root chakra and say ?Bum Shiva!?. It?s just a habit I?ve gotten into doing beforehand and even that?s just a kind of invocational?

SK: Good idea. Yeah, rituals and invocations are good things and they?re worth the time and the trouble and they will have as much meaning as you put into them. If you half-heartedly touch your chakras and say ?bum shiva? very half-heartedly, you get a very half-hearted result. If you focus every fucking atom of your Being on Shiva and your chakras and put yourself right into it, your endeavor will surely be blessed, how could it be any other way? So really it?s, ?You?re getting out what you put in? isn?t it?

JW: Yup. So, I have one more conception question. Do you feel all things conceived are meant to have a chance at existence in the world?

SK: (Sighs) That?s a very hard question to answer. It?s often hard when you look at things like ticks and fleas and flies to think why they are conceived. They?re creatures and you wonder why they exist. If you hear really horrible music or a horrible TV show, you wonder why.
Um, I?m not sure on that one. It feels like too big of a question for me to be able to answer actually .

JW: Yeah, that question even brings up my whole back catalogue of songs; stuff that has come through, but will probably never leave the notebook or see the light of day.

SK: Yeah, You gotta have loads of those. That?s good. Sometimes it?s nice to have a song that nobody else in the whole world has ever heard; just you; you?re the only person in the world who knows you?ve got it, you know it?s great, that?s enough. You don?t need anybody else to hear it. Sometimes you have to write a thousand lousy songs; I know I did before I even wrote one good one and nobody will ever hear any of them either nor should they. You know, they still came through, but they?re not worth anybody hearing. I think that?s the problem; there are people who write rubbish and still think other people should hear it. That can happen to you at the beginning of your career and it can happen to you in the middle and at the end. You?re sort of unable to perceive that what you?re writing is rubbish and you can kind of loose your judgment.

JW: Yeah, that is always interesting to me with bands and artists, like a lot of groups have these periods, especially in the middle, where they put out a few records and I listen and just ask myself, ?what were they thinking??
Like Bowie and that certain period where he just put out a string of crap.

Sk: Yep. He wasn?t thinking. He didn?t know. He obviously made billions of dollars off ?Let?s Dance? and he was like living it up and he completely lost touch with that part of him that was helping him write good stuff. He was living in Switzerland or whatever he was doing, but it didn?t really involve sitting down and knocking out good songs and so he just on auto-pilot churned out ?Tonight? and fucking, what was it? ?Day In Day Out??what album was that on? ?Never Let Me Down??.I mean even the title, ?Never Let Me Down??what a title for an album! You know, there have been odd songs here and there on odd albums and he?s not as terrible as he once was, but still, maybe he?s getting back there, but really, the kind of hunger for writing a good song seems to have permanently left him, I don?t know why, it just does.

You can often hear, well I can, when people are kind of guessing, you know what I mean? He doesn?t confidently offer the songs up. He?s got this kind of real hesitance like, ?Fuck, I don?t know, is this any good? ?, you know what I mean, hoping someone is going to say, ?Yeah, this is great.? Whereas, when you hear ?Hunky Dory? and ?Heroes? and stuff like that, it?s just got this confidence.

JW: Did you ever hear ?Earthling??

SK: Yeah yeah yeah.

JW: That had some good stuff on it.

SK: Yeah, there were a couple of good numbers, but nothing to make you really think he?s back in business.

JW: Right. On that similar topic, you know like some bands that were really great in the 70s; when they tried to start going into the 80s and fitting in, they?re 80?s stuff was really bad, but some have come back now and returned to their original form again. Like, this may be way off your listening path, but did you ever listen to Heart back in the day?

SK: Nope.

JW: Ann and Nancy.

SK: (Laughs) No, but I know they started off as sort of hippy and kind of groovy with these two skinny girls doing this Led Zeppeliny sort of thing and then in the 80s they turned into this bloated, on all levels, hideous parody doing these songs where they?d draft in some outside songwriter who?d come in and write some incredibly obvious (sings deeply) ?Listen to your heart? or whatever it was. (Both laugh)

They?re all the same, like the ones Belinda Carlisle used to sing. They?d always be these same kind of songs; these emotional, meaningless complete wastes of four minutes of your life listening to it.

JW: Their 70s stuff, if you?re into hippy chicks doing Zeppelin was pretty groovy. I just don?t see how?

SK: Yeah, I had some friends who were into that, but hippy chicks doing Zeppelin never appealed to me, though many things did, that was just one that didn?t.

JW: Before we move on to the next section and while we?re on this thing, I will say, and you may totally think I am crazy, but I saw Robert Plant recently with his new band and he still had it, even when he?d pull out the old songs and his new songs; it still felt vital.

SK: Virile.

JW: Yeah, he was like?

SK: He?s not an old guy. He?s a guy who?s still in full possession of his powers.
Sutra of Power, 20" x 14", gouache/pastel

JW: Yeah, he could still be doing ?Baby baby baby? when he?s 80 and it would still be convincing because he still sees the humor in the whole thing and he still climbs up on the speaker stacks and it?s still killer.

SK: But gee, his face is a shocking reminder to people who think they can be involved in lots of debauchery and not pay the price isn?t it?

JW: It?s true.

SK: Especially under his thick blonde hair like a 16 year old girl, there?s this very sad debauched terribly old man?s face looking out from under all that hair. It?d almost be more of a blessing if he?d thinned out a little, I think, don?t you? It wouldn?t be such a wicked contrast because he really looks like the picture of fucking Dorian Grey.

JW: But he seems happy.

SK: You look at some guys at 60 or look at some guys like me at 50 or some guys who are 40 and say yes, they?re 50, they?re 60, they?ve got wrinkles and grey hair that?s going thin, but we still look like ourselves; we just look like a wrinkled up older worn out version. And then you get other dudes and you look at them and you?re like, ?Whoooaa, how the fuck do you get looking like that?? Do you know what I mean?

JW: Yep.

SK: You have to imagine that there?s something causing that.

JW: Like Keith Richards for God?s sake.

SK: That?s the perfect example yeah. You look at Keith and Mick and Mick looks old but he doesn?t look (laughs) frightening, but Keith looks like he?s wearing every line of coke and cigarette and shot of booze on his face.

JW: I got the sense from Robert Plant though that he was a happy guy and he seemed, um, attuned still to whatever spiritual path he?s on you know? You can get that sense from someone who?s actually stayed on a path. Maybe that?s the key to some of these rockers dudes.

SK: What path is he on, some sort of Celtic thing?

JW: I don?t know what he is on specifically, but have you seen Peter Gabriel lately? He?s looking pretty weird.

SK: Yeah, he looks like some kind of old Chinese I don?t know what.

JW: Like a Zen Master or something.

SK: Yeah yeah. Is he into Zen or something is he?

JW: I?ve heard he?s a Sufi. Like the symbol of his record label is the symbol to one of the Sufi orders I belong to, but being a Sufi could mean anything you know?

SK: I?m sure. He?s into that. I?m sure that?s what he is yeah. He looks like he fucking is. He doesn?t look like Peter Gabriel anymore. I mean, I wouldn?t recognize him if I ran into him in the supermarket that it was Peter Gabriel. And I?m a big Peter Gabriel fan too.

JW: He?s continued to?

SK: He has. He has continued to be?.I mean, he went through a bit of a bad period there, but I guess he needed that to be able to get the money to launch Real World, so I guess the ends sort of justified the means.

To be continued? comes the Incubation section?

(the official Church band site)
(the Kilbey Bros. record label where all Steve's solo material can be found)
(for more of Steve's art)
(Steve's ever growing blog!)

Last Updated ( Monday, 31 July 2006 )
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