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A band interview from BEFORE the first album release Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 January 1981

This is an interesting article, where the journalist speaks to the band before the first album was released. They are listening to the album together with record company staff.  Notice phrases like "shifting units of this new product" and Steve wondering why a band that has only been together 2 months has an American manager (who jokes that Steve is already trying to "sound enigmatic"), and that Marty wants to play Madison Square Garden :)

 


 

Up on top of Sydney's EMI building at Studio 301, the final mix of The Church's debut album, Of Skins And Hearts [sic], is being played. Not all of it, just five songs, one of which is the new single, Unguarded Moment.

This teaser is for EMI's key personnel, to inspire them to do their utmost in shifting units of this brand new product. The four members of The Church are already in the console room, anxiously clutching drinks. But there seems to be some difficulty in rounding up the guests from the surrounding hallways and herding them into the room, so engrossed are they in their chats.

Finally it is done. Drinks have been distributed all round. "Right, roll - No hold it! Did anyone miss out on a crisp? No? OK, play the tape. This is great, you'll love it!" thunders Chris Gilbey of ATV Northern, who have signed the band and have a distribution deal with EMI.

Tall, angular Steve Kilbey (The Church's bass guitarist, singer and composer) stands in a corner respectfully listening to his band. He is decked out in black and nervously rubs his eyes as he oversees the general non-reaction from the guests. He has been worried about his mascara ever since a lady told him earlier in the day that is was smudged.

"It's a really strange album," says Steve, "because it was mixed by Bob Clearmountain", an American engineer who worked on Springsteen's The River and Roxy Music's Flesh and Blood. It's turned out completely different to what I expected. I never envisaged making an album like this."

"It's a great album consider what he was given," quickly adds Marty Wilsson-Piper, The Church's second guitarist who left his native England for Australia a year ago. "He'd never heard the band and we sent a rough mix of the album to him in America and he sent back what he thought we should sound like. He did an amazing job. But it's a funny album to listen to because you can see so many different ways it could have been done."

"I find it very frustrating," remarks Steve with ahint of bitterness, "that we recorded the album last September and it won't be out until April. That's incredibly frustrating."

The session ends, drinks are drained, thanks extended; it's late, must be time to go home. Dinner is waiting on the stove. The Church shuffle around wondering what the point of the whole exercise was. Steve Kilbey believes too intently in his creation to easily tolerate this off-handedness. Welcome to the business world. Though in some strange, indeterminate way this lightning party probably will benefit The Church in the future. All-important contacts have been made, however fleeting.

To most people The Church are probably unknown; not surprising considering that they have only been playing regularly around Sydney since December. The news that they have an album coming out shortly and big overseas deals in the pipeline may thus come as a surprise.

The Church themselves are surprised.

"Hopefully before July we'll have a deal for an American release of the album," states their manager Kent Gorrell. "There's an agency in America who are very interested in us touring there as well."

"There's a huge credibility gap in this band," interrupts Steve Kilbey. "We do these ridiculous little gigs around Sydney and we've got American attorneys and managers! It doesn't make sense to me. I'll believe it when it happens."

"But the band has only been playing consistently for two months. We have to get a following."

"We're like a football team. All this American stuff doesn't really interest me. I'd be quite happy just to play around Sydney and Melbourne for the next three years."

"Let's face it that's what happens to most bands anyway."

"I'd like to play Madison Square Garden!" interjects Marty Willson-Piper. "What we need is advisers to sort it all out for us. We're just musicians who plug our guitars in. If you've been playing little gigs and getting $10 a night and someone comes along with a contract and says, 'I'll do this for you, boys', well...you sign it!"

"We had nothing when we signed," explains Steve, "and now we have all new equipment and all our rehearsal and recording costs were paid for. Of course, we're enormously in debt."

The mood darkens in the long silence.

"I guess I'm sort of happy," murmers Steve. "I'm disillusioned more. But I knew what was going to happen when I went into it."

"This is Steve's attempt at being enigmatic," jokes Kent Gorrell.

Steve Kilbey has over the last ten years "sort of played in lots of bands, but nothing that I want to talk about." Most of his time has been spent with his bass guitar, sythesiser and 4-track tape recorder, writing songs. The total is somewhere near a thousand at last count.

About a year ago Steve and guitarist Peter Koppes made demos of some of them and began taking them around the record companies. The universal reaction was: 'Get a band.' So Marty and drummer Nick Ward (who has just departed to be replaced by Richard Ploog from Adelaide) were recruited and The Church was formed. More demos were recorded and the first company they approached, ATV Northern, immediately snatched them up. An excellent debut single, She Never Said / Heartbeat, was released -- unfortunately it got lost in the pre-Christmas rush.

But to those who searched it out, the single announced the arrival of a very interesting new band, seemingly occupying a position between Flowers' "Can't Help Myself" [Ed: Flowers was the original name of Icehouse.] and Gary Myrick and The Figures' "She Talks In Stereo."

This is a misconception though, as it is not the sound The Church are after at all. The rest of the album is very different, a much mellower and very introspective style, dominated by a wall of guitars that accent the melody more than the beat. The Church are confidently original and musically very polished.

"What we're trying to do is revive this Byrds sound," says Steve. "We really need an electric 12-string guitar on stage for Marty to do it properly. But we can't find one anywhere to give us this electric 'jingle-jangle' sound. I've been writing now totally for this style. I haven't touched my synthesiser since I got into this."

"It's not really like the Byrds, because I can't sing like Roger McGuinn, and none of these guys can do harmonies. So it's not a sweet folkie sound, it is electric."

--

Transcribed by Brian Smith (Apr. 2008)

Note from Brian:  This is a very early interview, obviously, and it encapsulates a lot of themes that would later become apparent in The Church.  In just the second paragraph you are shown a scene of music being paraded before disinterested "shifters of product units" who are more interested in drinks and chit-chat than the album.  Steve's first quote can easily be interpreted as "Oh no, this album is nothing like what I was trying to do," which Marty reinforces with his comment that it could have come out so many different ways.  Steve is despondent at being "enormously" in debt before the album is even out, and his manager makes fun of him. And both Richard and Peter have not a single word in the interview, despite their enormous contributions to the album!

Also, all three Church releases mentioned are incorrect in some small way. It's "Of Skins and Heart" not "Hearts", "The Unguarded Moment", and "In A Heartbeat" was the b-side of She Never Said. It's possible first two  names were changed after the album was released though.

Not deep thoughts, I know, but I found these themes very portentious as I was typing it up.

--

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