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Steve talks about tinnitus, acoustic touring and Milky Way Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 August 2006

Originally published at PortfolioWeekly.com

Seven years into their musical career, Australia dream-pop band The Church finally scored its first international hit, "Under the Milky Way," in 1988. With 20 albums to their credit, the Aussies never found widespread success beyond "Milky Way."

The group is currently on tour in support of Uninvited, Like the Clouds, an album full of the clever, atmospheric sounds that bare their trademark.

The following is a surprising interview with singer Steve Kilbey, a day after their first concert of the American tour.

With so many great dream-pop songs that feature your layered guitar sound, why do an acoustic tour of America?

There are so many reasons for that. The main reason is that it?s just easier. The second reason is that I and the drummer have tinnitus, which is ear damage. I have really serious ear damage and I find, even on this tour, people talking to me and I?m going, "excuse me, excuse me?" I have to have my ear right up close to their mouth so I can actually hear what they?re saying. People talk and most of the time I just go, "Oh, really. Yes." I can?t fuckin? hear anything.

I don?t think we could handle five weeks noisy anymore. This is the only way we can do a longer tour.

Do you use an in-ear monitor or do you rely on the floor monitors to hear yourself singing on stage?

Well, when we play electric I do. But this way I can actually handle them being on stage without my ears hurting.

Did your condition develop over a period of time or was there one defining moment when you knew you?d damaged your eardrums?

There have been a few defining moments when I really caught some action from squealing feedback or cymbal crash. It?s just solid abuse from the age of 15 spending every available moment sitting around amplifiers in garages with guys on drum kits and wailing away on electric guitars and screaming into microphones.

The ringing is like a thousand TV sets all switched on. And not only that, it?s painful.

I was at a party once and this stupid woman smacked me around one of my ears and that ear is much worse than the other one. She just sort of cupped me and got me right in the ear. That was about four years ago.

It?s like every bit of feedback and every screaming guitar, it?s all forever playing back in my ear.

As a singer, how does that impact your live performance?

It doesn?t, really. I?m not so deaf I can?t hear anything. I can still hear.

When we were electric I could never really hear myself, and I?ve got kind of a quiet voice, so that was a problem. Now that we?re acoustic I can hear myself, which is probably the third good reason for touring America in an acoustic fashion.

Back to your atmospheric, dream-pop sound: How do you pull it off acoustically?

I was standing there last night and I was thinking, "We?re doing it. We?re doing the thing that we want to do." Every now and then, one of the guitarists in the band doesn?t really dig it so much, acoustic. He?s saying, "I want to step up to the next level." He?s like a guy who?s in a film and he?s suddenly in a play and he wants to do all this stuff he feels he can do in film. In a play he?s just got the basic thing.

Last night we did the thing. We transcended. We made the place slip into another dimension. It happened just with the acoustic instruments.

It?s harder, but when you do it it?s so much more rewarding. It?s quite a thing to pull it off with acoustic guitars, a piano and a drum kit.

Your big hit here in America was "Under the Milky Way." I wouldn?t put you in the One-Hit-Wonder category because you have such an impressive body of work ? 20 albums ? but was that song a blessing or a curse on your career?

I think it was a blessing. (Pause) It was our own fault, really. We worked really hard and we were very cohesive and we sort of fluked that hit, sort of accidentally wrote it. And then immediately after that we sort of took our eye off the ball. Our next album was not at all what people wanted from us. It didn?t have the magic that "Under the Milky Way" had. And then the following album after that did. And that?s showbiz. That?s rock-n-roll and that?s life. You don?t knock the champ down and then walk around the ring looking at him. You wait for him to get up and then hit him again. But we didn?t. We knocked him down and then we walked over and started arguing with the crowd while the guy got up and had a drink and sort of put his mouth-guard back in and when we turned around he clobbered us. And that was grunge. And it was all over. That was it.

But as you say, we do have a large body of work, but most people know us by "Under the Milky Way." We?re just lucky that it is a beautiful song and it is still representative. If you like that song, you probably like anything else that we do. But there are bands that have a hit with a song they fucking detest and then they?re always known as the guys that did the lawn-mowing song.

Jeff Maisey

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