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Steve talks about longevity, tinnitus, the biography and blogging Print E-mail
Monday, 12 February 2007
This was originally published by Jim Lundstrom at Associated Content.

The Church's Leader Steve Kilbey Under Microscope in New Book About Aussie Band
Stunning CD in 26th Year Together
By Jim Lundstrom

February 12, 2007

Steve Kilbey said he's shocked when he stops to think The Church has been together 26 years.

"I never thought we'd be together 26 months or 26 weeks," said the lead singer/songwriter/bassist of the Australian band by telephone from his home in Sydney.

"I thought it was just another band some guy was starting up," he said. "Eventually, maybe we'd get to Melbourne and do a gig and maybe we'd release a vinyl single."

Fast forward eight years from the band's start in 1980. Americans finally cottoned on to The Church with the timeless and ethereal Top 40 single "Under the Milky Way," from the beautiful 1988 release "Starfish."
The band was poised for superstardom, yet it somehow eluded them, a fact Kilbey is happy with.

"I don't mind what's happened to us, actually," he said. "Rather than go all the way to the top and then supernova, we've been quietly left alone to make records we like. A few people come and see us. Pretty much everybody ignores us. That's all right with me. People assume that once you've almost gotten there that you're forever bitter and angry.

You know, I had a lot. I went to the top of the mountain and had a look and I didn't think it was all that great up there, you know? When I was a kid I thought it would be great to be a rock 'n' roll star, but having a tiny little taste of it, it wasn't really my cup of tea. I always felt silly being mobbed and chased.

"I always thought the more success you had, the more freedom you had, but then I found out that when you had success, it limited your freedom," he said. "Suddenly, more people were interested in what I did and telling me what songs to write. Shave your beard off. Don't wear those clothes. Who fucking wants that? Some idiot in a New York skyscraper that can't play any instruments, can't write a song, can't sing, and suddenly they're telling you what to do? It's just silly.

"I think now it was a good thing, that we kind of reached our level of relative obscurity to be left alone to make the records and be the people that we want to be, and still eke a miserable living out of it. I still don't have to go into that office and work for the man."

The Church soldiers on, leaving a string of gorgeous rock albums and memorable live shows in their wake. Their latest release, "Uninvited, Like the Clouds," finds the band at the top of their form, still creating lush, architectural soundscapes on which Kilbey floats his youthful, almost-spoken vocals. "Uninvited" came out in April, with cover art by Kilbey, who took up painting just a few years ago. This is a band still creatively alive.

Along with Kilbey, the two other original members are the twin shimmering guitars of Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes. Drummer Tim Powles has been with the band since 1994.

Kilbey said there was never a reason not to play together.

"We've had a lot of arguments and fights," he said. "Peter left for a couple years and came back. Marty's walked out for a couple of nights. But we always seem to drift back together. I think the bottom line is that we've always enjoyed playing together, and the enjoyment has always been greater than the aggravation of having to deal with the other people.

"Being in a band with the same people all this time can really get you angry. A lot of things never really get dealt with, and 20 years later someone says, remember that time you did this, and said this and that. A lot of water under the bridge. But when we pick up our instruments and play, we've got something, and I think everybody in the band has always realized, you're not going to get this with anybody else."

On a recent U.S. tour, Koppes and Willson-Piper played acoustic guitars.

"I'm still playing bass through the system, but the guitars are completely acoustic," Kilbey said. "Peter's playing a lot of piano as well. It's kind of like our album 'El Momento Descuidado' (2004), kind of that stripped back aesthetic. It's kind of like the new album plus career retrospectives. We did it in Australia and for some reason it worked. It went down a treat in Europe, so I reckon Americans will like it.

"They might be going, 'Oh, acoustic, oh no!' but it's not some unplugged thing with people sitting around on stools. It's still pretty energetic, still rocking pretty hard."

But Kilbey wants people to know there is a reason for the acoustic quitars.

"Tim, the drummer, and I are suffering from terrible tinnitus all the time," he said. "We're a bit loath to go on stage with a hundred million decibels anymore. It's getting hard for me to hear what people are saying. The acoustic format doesn't damage my ears nearly as much as really loud guitars."

Kilbey said he first realized he had permanent ear damage in 1990.

"When I finished a tour, my ears were usually ringing for a while," he said. "When I finished this one tour, it never stopped. They just kept going. I'm getting progressively deafer and deafer all the time. The ringing is getting louder and louder. I just can't afford to aggravate it any more. A short electric tour I could handle, but I couldn't handle five weeks of electric guitars."

Kilbey said he isn't doing anything special to prepare for the 2007 release of "No Certainty Attached," a biography written by American Robert Lurie ("No Certainty Attached" is the name of a Kilbey song from the 1998 release "Hologram of Baal").

"I've already lived it," he said. "There's no surprises in there for me. I did a lot of interviews with Robert Lurie. He's a really nice guy and the book's a pretty straightforward account of my life.

"Robert's done me justice. He hasn't ground any axes. There's the whole drug thing. I said, 'Look, everybody knows what I did. It can be in the book. I'll be as honest with you as you like.' (If you don't know the drug stories, you'll have to wait for the book.). He hasn't sensationalized it. He's told it pretty much as it is."

About the same time Lurie started on his book, Kilbey began an online blog, stevekilbey.blogspot.com.

"In my blog, there's a lot of biography as well," he said. "I didn't ever think about it, but I think I tell my story better than anybody else. I write poetry and lyrics, but I'd never had a real way of writing prose. But since I've started my blog, I've sort of got my own way of writing now and I kind of like it for telling my story. I think when I compare the way I tell my story and the way Robert's told it, well, I think his suffers a little in comparison."

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