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Peter Koppes speaks to Shadow Cabinet about his music Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 February 1996
"I don't really talk about things very much, but I'm at a point now where I think it's about time I started telling people what I actually did."  

Peter Koppes

Speaks To

"I don't really talk about things very much, but I'm at a point now where I think it's about time I started telling people what I actually did."

After 8 albums with the Church and three solo albums (Manchild & Myth, From the Well, and the newly-released Water Rites), Peter Koppes has remained the mystery man of the Church. While bandmates Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper have gotten more attention (and interviews), Koppes has not sought to turn the spotlight his way, preferring, to use an overused-but-appropriate cliche, to let the music do the talking.

But now, in this exclusive interview for Shadow Cabinet, Peter tells us what he's been doing since leaving the Church after the Priest=Aura album, and gives new insight into the Church's past and future.

Peter displayed great passion when talking about his contributions to the Church, (and erased many assumptions about who-did-what in the band) but his enthusiasm is clearly for the future, with the release of Water Rites and his playing on new material for the Church.

As a long-time fan (and one who swoons every time he hears the acoustic guitar solo in "Almost With You") it was a huge privilege to interview Peter, who, despite suffering from a sore throat, was happy to answer all my questions (in fact, I was unprepared for his willingness to talk, and was caught without a second cassette when the first ran out after 90 minutes). I told Peter that the last 5 minutes or so of the conversation didn't make the tape, but Peter laughingly told me to just keep it to myself, as it was a funny but passionate attack against a critic who had slagged him off as an incompetent guitarist.

The interview began with Peter asking a number of questions about how this was to be used, and when I told him it was for a Church web page, he said, "What's the name of your site? Is it Shadow Cabinet?" I explained it was, and that it would also be sent to the Seance mailing list. He asked about the nature of the mailing list, and I explained that it was an exchange of information for Church fans and that the question "does anyone know how to get a copy of Sing Songs" comes up about every week. Peter gave the first of many surprises immediately: "Steve's got a hundred in his basement. He doesn't know how they got there but he's apparently got them."

Thanks go out to Sebastian at Phantom for arranging the interview, and to Cathy Weise (coincidentally the most vocal Peter Koppes fan I know) for transcribing the interview. While "webbifying" the interview, Brian has linked only the first occurence of frequently used terms. The largest thanks, of course, I reserve for Peter, both for consenting to the interview and for releasing Water Rites. Which is where we begin...

PK: OK, well the idea of this record that I released is from the Iridescence sessions. You know Iridescence?

TI: Yeah, you bet. In fact, it's just outstanding.

PK: Really. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's exactly the same sessions. We just finished off Iridescence out of the sixteen tracks that were recorded, and the other thirteen were just left to finish off as I could come to doing them. I ended up with quite a few guest artists apart from the original band on the record. It took quite a few years to do, but I did it in some of the best studios here in Australia. That's why it took a long time, because I did take advantage of people's gratuities, availability, and things like that. Some of it was done up at The Music Farm, which is probably where I spent most of the time doing it. I'd go up there occasionally to do a bit here and there. I don't know, what did you want to know about it?

TI: One of the things that I had noticed, actually just a couple of weeks ago, I was looking at some tapes that I had of an interview you had done on MTV during the Gold Afternoon Fix promotional time. You had said you had something new you were recording, and that it was a big production, and you said something like "yeah, I can't help myself", or something like that, about the production. That interview was after From The Well, so I thought that must be the Iridescence work, I suppose.

PK: Yeah. Well, that's probably right.

TI: So am I correct in assuming this is purely your production, or did you have another producer or engineer with you the whole time?

PK: I'm basically the producer and I had a co-producer that was on the Iridescence material. He was the full co-producer for that material. We recorded the backing tracks to ten of the songs with him.

TI: That's Ted Howard?

PK: Yeah. Another guy called Greg Courtney ended up finishing up the album with me, so I co-produced it with him and Anthony Smith, who actually spent a lot of time doing it with me as well. But, mostly, it was Greg and me who finished it off.

TI: Well, eveybody who's heard Iridescence just raves about it, especially Peak to Peak. It's one of thos epic rock riff songs.

PK: I'm glad you like it. At the time, I was really glad. I thought it was the best thing on the record to release at that time, especially as a single. You can't buck the system. To get a successful record, you have to get airplay, so I thought that was the most likely song to get airplay. It got a bit of airplay around here, but as an album, Water Rites has much better tracks than anything on the EP. Although the EP has Her Mark, which is the band doing a track from From The Well, which would give you an idea of what the songs, for me and for the public, I thought it was interesting that they could hear the difference of a band playing songs compared to, you know, strict clinical production like From The Well, which I really like. The band sort of puts more energy into things.

The last track on Iridescence was a co-write with somebody who is in a different field of music. She's into a much heavier style of music, and so that didn't really seem appropriate for the album anyway. So I was happy to put the EP out like that, but the album is much more consistent. I don't know if I should be quoting somebody, but this person who contacted me here for the magazine in England said it's the most consistent Church solo album in her mind. I don't know if she's biased because she's a good friend of mine now, but I'm very proud of the tracks on that album. If I left The Church, it was because that band was such a good band to play with. Obviously, The Church was a fantastic band to play with, but I had an incredible musical experience with The Well. That's why I recorded the band. The tracks on the album are much closer to what you'd imagine, I think, a Church record would be like.

TI: In the sense, more of the Peter Koppes vision of what a Church record should be like?

PK: I suppose you'd have to say that, yeah. I was recording these things up in The Music Farm and people were dropping by, this is a beautiful studio in the middle of the hills of the most glorious beautiful country in the world, you know? Like the sub-tropical equivalent to the English countryside or something like that. People were coming by who didn't know where I was from, really, and just walked into the studio because that's the nature of the place, and they said "gee, that sounds like a band that I've heard before." And then they'd finally say, "yeah, that sounds like The Church." That's how I got an arbitrary opinion on it, from that point of view. I don't want it to sound like I'm selling it like that, because I didn't want it to particularly sound like The Church, because the idea was to do whatever I was doing when I wrote it. It's a pretty big production record, like we used up to thirty tracks on a twenty-four track machine. We put three or four tracks on the same track to mix it, which was a lot of work. It's like what The Beatles used to do on eight tracks, things like that. They'd have about four different sounds on the same track so they'd have to change the tones and mixing and things like that as the track went by, so it would be ready for the next bit. That's what we did. We had a twenty-four track machine that we had sometimes four or five things on the one track at different times throughout the song.

TI: Yeah, so you can save your tracks. You can use it for an intro and then later on that track gets used for something else so it's not like a simultaneous sort of thing.

PK: And there's an epic song on it as well. It's got a sixty track vocal.

TI: (laughs)

PK: What we did, we recorded this choir, an eight person choir, in stereo and double tracked it eight times.

TI: That would be sixty-four.

PK: Yeah. Then we bounced that down to two and bounced it onto the tape.

TI: Wow.

PK: So you can see why it took me so long to do anyway. It doesn't matter how long you take to do something, it doesn't necessarily make it good, but I think it's pretty good and a lot of other people do too.

TI: Yeah, you can at least appreciate the craftsmanship in something of that nature.

PK: I hate overstating technicalities because it sounds like it's a short fall to something really good, but it was a labor of love for a lot of people involved in the process too, that they went to that much trouble.

TI: Right. So now, do you plan to be actively promoting this in terms of live shows?

PK: I pretty much doubt that. The Church, for its success, used to lose money touring.

TI: Yeah. I've heard a lot about that.

PK: Yeah, so I think the times have changed a lot, you know? It's probably even less likely that people can go and tour now. I'd love to go and play with the band again, but I don't think so. I think I'm just going to release this record and move on.

TI: Somewhere along the line, we had some information that maybe you were doing something with a reggae artist or something like that?

PK: Oh yeah. Richard got involved with a guy called Starman. He's a very talented rap reggae artist.

TI: Like a dance hall kind of thing?

PK: No. A cross between hip-hop and reggae. Kind of spiritual political.

TI: He's from Australia?

PK: No, he's Jamaican. We're not really too sure about his genuine history, but he supposedly studied in England and lives in Australia and kind of goes back to Jamaica and things like that. He's definitely got a Jamaican accent, you know. He's musically great, but it was awkward to work with him because it was like reggae Spinal Tap. We did an African festival in the capitol of Australia, which is called Canberra, which is strangely the place where Steve and I met and grew up...

TI: Yeah...

PK: So we went and did an African festival there, and that's about all I ever did with him because we were lucky to get out of there with out a kind of financial... it's horrible to talk about money as being an important thing in the music business, but when it becomes a metaphor for people not respecting you...

TI: Right... yeah...

PK: It was just an organizational mess, really. The music was brilliant and was one of the greatest experiences I ever had in music.

TI: Is this something that was recorded, or was it just a one-off performance?

PK: Well, it was recorded for TV in Australia. ABC TV recorded one day. It was reggae Spinal Tap the whole time, and I couldn't take the stress so I left. That was with Richard and Anthony as well, actually.

TI: Anthony Smith?

PK: Yeah. They are fantastic musicians, I tell you, I just love playing with those guys, you know?

TI: Does Anthony play bass?

PK: No, no, he's the keyboard player.

TI: OK. I'm mixed up because I've got all my Peter Koppes stuff sitting here as my reference, you know, and I see just people's names listed on the back of Iridescence. It doesn't list who plays what. So on the Iridescence single, you've got Richard Ploog and then a number of other people whose names I don't recognize.

PK: Don't you? Jim Leone is the bass player from a band called Celibate Rifles. Anthony Smith is a very, very respected keyboard player, from my point of view and a lot of other people's. At the time when The Church started, there were two other bands in the country that were really good. One of them was Midnight Oil and the other was a band called Flowers, who later changed their name to Icehouse, because there was a band in America called Flowers. He was the original keyboard player with Icehouse/Flowers.

PK: She owns my... it wasn't my Heyday shirt, it was Richard's Heyday shirt. He lent it to me because I came to the session wearing polka dots and they thought that would be too outstanding.

TI: Well, he lent you the better shirt, because I've got the shirt that he was wearing.

PK: Yeah, I really liked that shirt. The best one is still the one Steve had. It's a striped shirt, you can't really see, but it's got red kind of apple-looking things down dark stripes, and it's got light stripes interspersing that. I think that's the best shirt of all.

TI: That was very generous of Richard to give you that shirt because the one he wore is extraordinarily thin, in fact, and very see-through.

PK: Yeah.

TI: The one you're wearing is almost like corduroy.

PK: How did you get them in America?

TI: From a dealer down in Melbourne called Vicious Sloth. Cathy's in touch with a lot of Australian dealers because she's really passionate about Australian music. She got the shirt that you were wearing and was absolutely overjoyed because she's a huge fan of yours. About two months later she says to me, "now, I told you that they still have the Richard Ploog shirt, didn't I?" And I said "No, you didn't tell me that!" So I called them up and said "yeah, I'd like it" so...

PK: Mmm. And that's an Australian company?

TI: Yeah.

PK: What are they called?

TI: Vicious Sloth.

PK: (pause) Vicious...

TI: Sloth... like a tree sloth.

PK: Yeah? Vicious Sloth.

TI: So that was purely Richard's selling of the shirts then? He owned it the whole time, he never actually gave it to you or anything.

PK: No. He actually gave me one, one day, but he came by my house and borrowed it back and never gave it back to me, or another one!

TI: So what's Richard up to now?do you see him regularly?

PK: Irregularly. When he needs a new shirt. (laughs) He doesn't really do very much, musically. It's a pretty sad state. I know the most fantastic musicians in Australia and our club scene has died and there has been no input from record companies who have signed up and put millions into the most horrible bands. Most of our successful musicians are overseas. It's always the case. All Australian bands used to leave and go overseas. I live here because my family's here and I just decided to stay. I'm always thinking about leaving, but I like Australia. I do like it here.

TI: Wow, that's kind of a scathing indictment. I mean, it sounds really horrible to everyone who hears it, especially the people in America, when they hear that or read that, they're going to be like "oh, well, just come here and move in with me!" or "go to Los Angeles."

PK: That's what happened. Nick Cave went and lived in someone's loft in Berlin, you know? That's what happens.

TI: Yeah, he's a world traveler.

PK: I'm not that unhappy about the fact that some of these record companies have done so badly now they don't even have any money to interfere in the music, you know? So that the alternative bands that are here and have been here all this time are going to have a much better chance of selling records because they won't have to compete with the major companies and their crap. I think there's a turning point happening here.

TI: So they're reaping what they sowed.

PK: I think so. They don't even have people who sign up acts in Australia anymore. They've probably gone broke. The big labels here pretty much only distribute overseas artists now.

TI: Oh really?

PK: Yeah. Each company might have one major act, one Australian band you wouldn't really call "major" anyway, that they have possibly had for a long time or inherited. Like EMI inherited Johnny Diesel, otherwise they wouldn't have him anyway.

TI: The bit that I read, and it was just within the past day or so, said something about it being a limited edition and that they were only producing a few copies or something like that. What's the story with that?

PK: Well, yeah, basically we just decided to put it out so that fans could get a copy of it. There's a fanzine in England called North South East and West, do you know about them?

TI: Yes.

PK: They're excellent. Basically, a girl here in Australia contacted me to do an interview for her, and showed me the magazine. I was really impressed. They're in like their fourth issue already now. I thought there must be an incredible amount of interest out there. I'd finished this album two years ago, and had just been sitting on it because, I don't know, there's been a real lack of interest in things here. I was finishing deals with some people and had business copyright things, and I didn't want to release it in that situation, so I just kind of put it aside and forgot about it. And then suddenly this year, I've had a lot of people ringing me up because they'd either heard it, through an engineer or other people who had tapes, or had heard about it saying "what's happening, why don't you release it?" I thought the best way to release it would be to just do it like this with all the interest in the fan base and things like that, and the fact that I think record companies were barking up the wrong trees for what they thought would be "saleable items." In this country, it ruined a lot of the record companies who don't even have people phoning up acts anymore and they spent money on stuff that was just crap, you know? That was another reason why I didn't find the right kind of support in this country. I just made it for export and mail-order only.

TI: Yeah.

PK: Surprisingly or not so surprisingly, America has been a very appreciative country for The Church. In this country, obviously, the people that like us just love us. The media here, they've got free magazines now. Before that, you had to buy these magazines, and a lot of them were kind of against us because Steve started out by saying he thought we were the best band in Australia.

TI: Right...

PK: There's a kind of parochial attitude here with a lot of the Australian bands, I don't know if you've heard about them, like Cold Chisel and John Farnham, those kind of bands?

TI: I don't know those two.

PK: Yeah, well they're huge here, right? The Australians thought they were really good bands and they never did anything overseas, and they used to try and ignore us. So we actually have a lot better appreciation outside the country, as far as like numbers anyway. The people in this country that like us are fanatical about us, obviously, but they're surprised how successful we are overseas. Everybody is.

TI: Is that something that you can attribute to a musical style issue, or is it something you have no clue as to how it ever came about? For instance, I've heard that in Europe, you guys have had a lot of trouble making any inroads in England, but that Spain and Italy are really good to you.

PK: Well the funny thing is in London, we have the most fanatical audiences of anywhere in the world.

TI: Oh?

PK: Yeah. It's a very strange phenomenon. We never toured Holland for ten years, because they didn't think we'd be popular there. And when we finally did, we just sold it out every time. It's an incredible story. The Church is an incredible story of embarrassment for promoters and record companies. We were signed to Warner Brothers (in the US) and they didn't really know how to handle it. They tried to promote an album that was basically two EPs put together (Remote Luxury), and then we were dropped from our Australian record company (EMI) after Heyday, and then Arista records had a gold record with us. Then Australia got probably a bit embarrassed, but EMI's got a reputation for being embarrassed with a nickname of Every Mistake Imaginable.

TI: (laughs) I've actually heard that. That's actually on the web page. They've got links to other things that might be somewhat vaguely Church-related, and there's a link to the EMI page. It says that you can see if you think that EMI stands for Every Mistake Imaginable.

PK: Yeah, well they're still putting out our CDs now.

TI: So if this is all older material, what are you doing currently and should we be looking for any sort of tour or anything of that nature?

PK: Well, I've kind of almost retired, really. I've got other material that I've been doing. I almost put out another single a little while ago. That was the other idea. With this album, I had a lot of faith in it and I thought there's no point putting it out if it can't sort of get a lot of exposure in some way. I thought at the time, three years ago when it was finished, it wasn't the right time to release it anyway, because music had gone into kind of a modern noisy phase. Whereas now, I think that the material is kind of like, not very current, if you know what I mean. But it doesn't seem old fashioned at all.

TI: To be more in a kind of traditional rock band?

PK: Yeah, I suppose. To have melody, you know? (laughs)

TI: And what is on the horizon, what are you doing right now?

PK: Well, I actually just recorded five tracks for The Church.

TI: Oh! Well that's a bit of a bombshell, can I say that right away?

PK: Well, I don't know if they're all going to be on the next album. There's some confusion about that at this stage. But certainly, one of them is a twelve-minute epic and it's Steve's favorite song on the record.

TI: Is it like in the Life Speeds Up kind of vein?

PK: No, no, no, it's kind more like an ambient epic.

TI: Something kind of like Chaos, maybe?

PK: No. Completely different. It's twelve minutes long and it's just kind of strange. Steve was playing guitar and I was playing guitar, and we just double tracked as we went along, and the song just was kind of made up. It's kind of like a musical version of a Monet painting, because it's all kind of like bits that you listen to and you're not really sure that it means anything separately, each thing. It's a composite. It's kind of like... for me, I maybe use the water analogies too much, obviously with From The Well and Water Rites now... for me, it's kind of like a buoyant pool of music without any real, um, structure.

TI: Right. Well the water metaphor has certainly been used by people other than you, so I think it's safe territory. And I don't mean that in a bad way.

PK: Well my record label, or publishing company, is called Worldwater Music. I just find it's a very strong metaphor for a lot of things. I'm going to drop it after this actually. (laughs) I think I've done it, I've milked it, if you'll excuse the liquid metaphor. (laughs)

TI: Well, we'll avoid all the possible fluid metaphors on that. Whenever there's an article written about The Church where there's talk about live performance, the writer is always trying to describe this dichotomy between you and Marty. Typically, they first say something like "Peter stands like a statue, playing these epic layered things while Marty jumps around and plays little fast things." That's like the summation that you get.

PK: Well, that's not bad. It's certainly appropriate a lot of the time.

TI: I want to ask you about some specific songs. There are some songs I listen to and imagine, from what I know of Peter, that he probably came up with the main riff of that. So we'll play "Check Tom's Accuracy" here.


TI: Am I correct that the two very distinct parts on North South East and West were written by you and Marty, like the intro part that goes (Thomas sings Peter's intro riff) you came up with that, and then Marty put his little speedy descending pentatonic thing over that?

PK: Yeah, correct.

TI: And then Antenna. I always thought that the fast strummed waltz-timed kind of thing seemed like it would come from you.

PK: Um... the waltz? Well it is a waltz anyway, isn't it?

TI: Yeah, but just the quick strummed part.

PK: The intro?

TI: Yeah, the intro... and that would be the genesis of the song as well.

PK: That pretty much came together - Marty and I both sort of brought that together at the same time, the intro for Antenna. The descending thing was part of probably Steve's part in there, I think. The chorus would have been a typical thing of all three of us playing three different things at the same time and not knowing who did what, but we'd find a place within that for each of us. It's a weird way - it's probably the only way three people can sort of write something in a way without a psychic connection, which music is in a way as well. This is probably sounding pretty weird to you, trying to describe music, but we've often tried to work out what actually happens when we get into a room together anyway, but we never play the same notes. The bass will play either the root or a note within a chord and Marty and I will play different chords. Do you play guitar or any other?

TI: Yeah, I play guitar.

PK: Well you can play a G and a C at the same time on the guitar, right?

TI: Yeah, sure.

PK: And if you play a D at the same time, you kind of end up playing North South East and West.

TI: (laughs) Yeah, that's one of the first Church riffs I learned, actually.

PK: Our whole structure is kind of playing different chords at the same time. We never ask each other what chord you're playing, because that would ruin the whole thing. So with Antenna, the chorus was everyone trying to play what they thought the chorus would be, and it would all kind of move in a certain direction and we end up playing the different chords at the same time in a way that has some sense rather than just being crazy.

TI: And so that sense is just achieved through trial and error, or you just stumble onto it?

PK: There's some kind of guidance. I don't know what that is, that's what I mean by that psychic thing, but when we do it, we end up with something... someone plays along with us as well. I don't know if you've read any of the interviews, there was something mentioned about Gusto. We coined him as a character. That thing that was greater than the sum of the parts was called Gusto as a joke.

TI: The next question is on big, um... "plain" solos, where it's really clear that a person is playing a solo composed of individual notes, those kind of died out after Seance. Like there was one on One Day and one on Disappear. But then after that, all through Remote Luxury and Heyday and everything after that, there wasn't a specific solo part. Early songs like Almost With You had the acoustic solo and everything... was that a specific decision made in the band not to do that kind of solo?

PK: Yeah, probably. It was kind of like we thought it might be a bit passe, like drum solos were getting a bit out of date. We probably tried to avoid songs that ended up with a structure that needed a guitar solo. In fact, Metropolis, we labored over that for a long time to come to the conclusion that it only needed a one note solo for the impression to be greater than diluting it by having two notes.

TI: Metropolis was another one I was going to ask you about, the structure of it, whether it was one you had a primary role in.

PK: Right again. And Grind was the other one.

TI: Grind was one of yours then? The D minor, saddest of all keys? As Nigel Tufnel would say, bringing it back to Spinal Tap.

PK: Yeah, that's the one. (laughs) Maybe subconsciously I remembered that.

TI: The other thing I always wondered about on the albums, if the songs were credited to Steve, and I've seen Steve play guitar so I know he's somewhat competent, but it seems to me that he couldn't have written all the riffs. I was just wondering how much of the early material that is riff-based came about. Did Steve have just a basic chord structure and then you guys built your riffs over that, or how did that work?

PK: Tell me a song that you've got in mind.

TI: (caught unprepared) Let me think about that for just a minute...

PK: I did a lot of musical arrangement for the stuff in the early days.

TI: The first album has a lot of riffs, for instance, Unguarded Moment has a really specific riff kind of thing.

PK: I wrote the middle eight and arranged the intro and outro. I've tried not to talk about things like this, because it caused a bit of problem in the band, really. You know, what is writing and what isn't writing. The Tin Pan Alley days of songwriting is if you've got the chorus, than you've got the song almost, you know?

TI: Right, exactly.

PK: And they extended that to the verse, basically, but they don't really include middle eights. And yet, if they play a middle eight on a TV theme and not the rest of the song, the person who wrote the rest of the song gets the copyright, not the person who wrote the middle eight. I've always had a big problem with that. You can't really give someone a songwriting credit for writing a middle eight, but it did cause a few strange things in the band for a long time. I didn't really talk about things very much, but I'm at a point now where I think it's about time I started telling people what I actually did. You know Too Fast For You and Tear It All Away and, what was the other...

TI: Sisters?

PK: Yeah, those three songs were actually mixed at the same time as the first album by Bob Clearmountain. Well, not at the same time, but they were released as two separate singles, a double-single package after the first album. We weren't happy with the mixes, so I mixed them [with] Bob Clearmountain, and never insisted on having credit for that on the record, and I've come to realize that as downplaying the kind of capability and trust the band had in my contributions to the music. Those three songs, I mixed with Bob Clearmountain for that album.

TI: I noticed on the Russian Autumn Heart CD, the bonus tracks on there, you're credited as mixing those.

PK: There was an album in Australia called A Quick Smoke At Spots that has all of those tracks that I basically mixed.

TI: Hunter, The Feast...

PK: Steve and I mixed some of them, and the other ones I mixed with the mixing engineer, obviously.

TI: That was another thing I was going to mention was on the Quick Smoke At Spots stuff, there's been a lot of people on the Seance list asking if some of this stuff, as well as Musk and some others that are just in-between songs that no one can seem to place, were these done as demos when you were trying to find a new label when Arista eventually did pick you up for Starfish?

PK: Musk and Trance Ending, are you talking about those two tracks?

TI: Yeah.

PK: They were just done for fun at Steve's home studio at some time, you know, just for the hell of it.

TI: And the other songs from A Quick Smoke At Spots were outtakes from Starfish and Gold Afternoon Fix, or do any of them go back - someone had theorized that he or she thought they were probably leftovers, going back as far as Heyday, maybe.

PK: No, if we had extra tracks back then, they ended up on b-sides and things like that. Most of the stuff that were b-sides were properly recorded stuff. Up to The Golden Dawn, I think even that was recorded with another engineer. I think we started with Musk and Trance Ending where we were left to our own devices in the studio. That's probably why they're so self-indulgent, but it shows that side of the band as well.

TI: Another mixing question that has kind of embroiled people in discussion is the Seance album, because so many people, myself included, think that the drum sound on that album is just atrocious. Except I do kind of like what happens on Electric Lash, when you get that snare drum sounding a machine gun kind of thing.

PK: Or a pop gun. You should thank your lucky stars that we had it changed from what it originally sounded like!

TI: (laughs)

PK: I swear, we almost had the producer in tears when we said "what the hell is this" and he said "if you didn't want it to sound like that you shouldn't have employed me." We were touring so we didn't have any control, but when we heard it, we were shocked. He said he was going to play it down, and that's the result from playing it down.

TI: I'm very glad to know that you'd made an effort on that, because it's something that a lot of people have wondered about for quite some time. Do you have a little bit more time? I've got a few more questions.

PK: Yeah, as longs as my voice holds out.

TI: As long as you're not bored by it or offended by any of the questions.

PK: I only do this, like, once a year these days. This year it's been twice.

TI: This will last you for awhile because there will be people discovering it intermittently. It won't be like a magazine that's published and then is off the rack after a month.

PK: I'm really interested in the Internet, actually. If you're going to post something on that, I think it's really worthwhile.

TI: Great. Do you currently have an email account or anything like that?

PK: No. I go down to the Internet Cafe. We've got all these cafes here in Sydney that have got computers in them, you can just go and log on. A friend of mine is a graphic artist for an internet school, doing web sites and stuff like that, and I checked out the Church file there. I think it's quite an exciting field, really.

TI: Yeah. The beauty of it is the hierarchical categorization of things and the way you can find one thing based on another thing. When I first got online access, within five minutes, I was reading about The Church and I was like "wow, this is fantastic." In terms of percentage of the population, it's still quite small, and people will continue to find it.

PK: Well, as long as they're linked up the way you mentioned, it's going to save a lot of people, because otherwise it would be a little bit daunting, I think, to go to the internet and never find things. Because they're all linked up, I think that makes it a bit easier.

TI: Absolutely. Another thing that has been has been a big discussion topic among the people on the Seance list is solo albums. People will say they like Steve's stuff or Marty's stuff, and a lot of people have said "I've got Koppes' stuff, but I don't like his singing." Have you heard that kind of thing before?

PK: Um... yeah. Most of the time they say they can't hear my singing or can't hear the lyrics. Everybody said different things. Some people said they thought my singing was better on my first album when I thought I wasn't singing very well. I don't know, I always knew I wasn't a Pavoratti or something like that. Sometimes I wonder whether I should try and sing in a style because if you think about the best singers, they've got a style and an attitude in their singing. Even people like Mick Jagger, who doesn't think he's a good singer, has a style and that's how they carry themselves. I've always been a little bit averse to mimicking a style or something like that. I try to be very straight. I'm not a singer, I can carry a melody, I think, but my style of singing is kind of journalistic.

TI: Can you explain that particular adjective? Is that a metaphor or what?

PK: It's kind of like if you have a newsreader, they have to have a interpretable accent. By all the different parameters of accents, they have to be general. Like the Queen's English is a very tainted English. It's very stylistic. A BBC newsreader has to be able to be understood by all the different accents of the English dialects. And yet, as much as I would think that's what's in my projection, what I would think about doing on a stylistic level, strangely enough, it makes it very hard for people to understand what I'm saying anyway. Another way of singing is to have the sound more as a melody rather than to enunciate anyway. I'm a terrible enunciator, so I don't think that's what people mean when they say they don't like my voice. It's the same as what someone who didn't understand Lou Reed would say about his voice. Not that I'm saying I have as good a voice as him, I know I haven't, he has a vibrato and a style. But what carries him very much is the essence of his attitude and musical greatness.

I don't know, it's a matter of taste, isn't it? I've heard Neil Young singing really badly and I've heard him singing beautifully. On Harvest, he's got the most beautiful voice, but when he sings "Broadway" on Freedom, I didn't buy that album when I heard that! I couldn't listen to that. It took me a year before I could buy the album and decided not to listen to that track. He's got a terrible voice, Neil Young, like Ragged Glory is his opus as far as Neil Young fans go, but I can't listen to it because his voice is so bad. I'd go and see him live and I love the artist, but I reckon he's got a worse voice than me. (laughs)

TI: Yeah, well he certainly gets the feeling across. On a song like Needle and the Damage Done or something like that, it's a very light take on a voice that isn't designed to really do that.

PK: You know that song Mellow On My Mind?

TI: Um... I know Gentle on My Mind...

PK: No, Mellow On My Mind is a classic Neil Young track and basically, it's the most bootlegged track from live albums and everything because his voice cracks in the middle of it, and it's a most difficult song to sing, but it has so much feeling and it's such a plaintive kind of melody that when his voice cracks, it just sounds like he can't sing because the emotion has overcome him as well. It's the most bootlegged track because everybody who's a Neil Young fan can see so much of the soul of the man through that. But anybody who hears it for the first time, including myself, is just disbelieving. It's on the album Tonight's The Night. If you ever listen to it, you'll understand. Now that's a really badly recorded album too, which I found very hard to listen to myself, and a diehard Neil Young fan who lived with me just played it so often that I ended up seeing right through the technicalities into the soul of it, and I have to agree with him, it's one of the most feelingful records ever made. But you have to go beyond the technicality.

TI: To go a little further on the Neil Young theme, I didn't know you were all that passionate about him, he's got some great guitar solos that are just one note over and over and over, and his style sounds very much like ...

PK: He's a Scorpio too, you see?

TI: (laughs) Then you're a Scorpio?

PK: Yeah.

TI: But I wouldn't say that there are many stylistic similarities between you and Neil, that's the thing. It kind of surprises me because I would say that your solos sound more planned out, whereas his sound like he doesn't have any idea what note he's reaching for, but yet he's...

PK: He's more frenetic.

TI: Yeah, the phonetics of it and the way he plays the notes

PK: No, I mean FRENETIC.

TI: Oh, frenetic... I thought you meant phonetic, like in the speaking sense.

PK: I'm more phonetic.

TI: (laughs) The syllables of the notes.

PK: Yeah, it's kind of like when I play a solo, I think it's kind of like singing, you know?

TI: We're back to singing again, then.

PK: It's probably my truer voice, maybe. But I like singing and would like to find a really great style.

TI: I think the style on Iridescence is great, especially on the opening track when you hit that low note in the intro. That low note there is hit with really nice, rich, bassy resonance. It sounds really fantastic. Especially because the other instruments haven't come in yet.

PK. Mmmm. Thank you very much.

TI: I'll thank you for the song, because it's a favorite of mine. If I've got five minutes before going to work I'll say "I want to hear something, what do I want to hear... oh, I'll put on Iridescence, hear Peak to Peak."

PK: So you really like the rock stuff, do you?

TI: Yeah. It's kind of like the missing elements out of the stuff that was on Sometime Anywhere. There wasn't as much as of that, and I really like it a lot, I've seen some shows from the Starfish and Gold Afternoon Fix tours that were big epic rock shows, and I love that. But I love the other stuff too.

PK: What city are you in?

TI: I'm in Lincoln, Nebraska. You may have passed through Lincoln quite a few times because we're on Interstate 80, which is one of the big east-west thoroughfares. But you played Omaha, Nebraska, sixty miles away, on the Starfish tour right towards the end. The first time I saw you was in San Francisco at the Filmore at the start of the Starfish tour. In fact, I saw you and Richard and Marty leaving the stage door, and I was standing in this long line of people, and I couldn't believe that no one recognized you. In fact, this gets to another question: you and Marty that day, and quite a few other times I've seen you, were wearing the most tight pants imaginable. I was wondering if that was a specific stylistic hallmark of The Church or anything? I'd never seen pants as tight as yours and Marty's were that day.

PK: The English and the Europeans all wear them. We used to buy our jeans in London and Holland.

TI: Just for that reason?

PK: Well, those were the only ones that used to fit us! (both laugh). I think we like that kind of medieval foppishness. They used to wear tights, but you can't wear tights these days.

TI: Yeah. Well under some circumstances... but jeans are more characteristic of a rock band, unless you're Jethro Tull or something like that.

PK: (laughs)

TI: Actually, that kind of middle ages foppishness that you mentioned there reminds me of a band that's sometimes accused of that, and that's All About Eve. I was wondering what you thought of Marty's work with All About Eve.

PK: (long pause) Um... I thought his work with them was really good. I thought that what he did with them was better than what they did without him, for sure. I was surprised it wasn't more successful and I quite enjoyed some of the singles. Yeah, I thought it was OK, yeah.

TI: I think it's really tremendous...

PK: Some of the recordings were magnificent, like the album they did with Warne Livesy (Touched by Jesus). I don't know them very well because I wasn't that mad on the band really before he'd joined them, but he played me some of their stuff and I've heard some of it since then, and I thought, yeah, the recordings were really great. They sounded really nice and everything, but I don't really have any of the records. I don't know, there's a strange thing, sometimes we kind of ignore each other's stuff in a way.

TI: How about Sometime Anywhere ? I assume you've had a chance to listen to that.

PK: Yeah exactly. We try to ignore each other. (laughs) No, I like a few songs on there. Obviously in any band there's differences of musical taste. You might attribute the rock side of The Church to me but Marty did the Reptile riff. I was playing drums when we wrote Tantalized.

TI: Oh!

PK: Yeah, Marty and I wrote Tantalized, the basics. Usually, songs kick off from somewhere and then everybody joins in and puts parts in after that.

TI: Right...

PK: Tantalized was Marty and I, basically. I was his support for that side of the heavy side of the band. I suppose without me, it went more in a different direction. And naturally, it has to because it's like a conversation. You have a different conversation with a different collection of people. Someone leaves, you know, it becomes more intimate, and you talk about the other person behind their back, you know?

TI: (laughs)

PK: There's no mystery about it really, and music is the same thing. Sometime Anywhere, you'd probably say that you miss the heavier side of it, and I think I did too. I don't know, anything I would say would sound like bagging it or, I don't know... I don't play it very often, but I like My Little Problem, I like Steve's "confessional" style of singing. He's a great artist. I used to like playing with Marty and I still do. That's the good thing about having done some stuff with The Church again. People naturally jump to conclusions and they're most often bad conclusions about things.

TI: The notion being that there's some sort of big rift between the three of you, in other words?

PK: There always was. There was always a strong competitiveness and strong respect that was always in balance within the band, until it got to the point where, for whatever reason, I've spent a long time trying to work out why, I just didn't want to be a part of it anymore. I wanted a break from it or something. I don't know. I was going to be flippant when I was asked why I left the band, I was just going to say I felt like it, because that was the only excuse I could really have. I'd thought about it since the beginning of the band anyway, seriously. I think it's because everybody's competitive and there are staunch individuals in the band especially. I don't know, it's a difficult thing to talk about. I'm not used to being protective about opinions within the band.

TI: Well I don't want you to say anything you don't...

PK: I don't really care anymore. As far as I'm concerned, that did about as much damage to me as it did any good for the band anyway. I'm content... like I say, I went back and played some songs with the band on the new album. I don't need to be as protective of my opinion anymore because people can see from that a lot more about my attitude to the breakup.

TI: When there have been polls taken on the Seance list of favorite albums, the three that always come up at the top are Heyday, Starfish and Priest=Aura.

PK: Yeah?

TI: Priest=Aura, that one kind of surprises me. It's one of my top three as well, but I'm always surprised at how many people like Priest=Aura. It took a long time for it to grow on me. At first I thought it was a really dark album...

PK: It's Steve's favorite, and my favorite as well. Yeah, it's a dark album, isn't it?

TI: Yeah, and about halfway through about what would be the second side, it seems to me like it stops being really song- specific. Things like The Disillusionist, Chaos, Film and some of that other stuff towards the end there seem to be all kind of part of a greater thing, whereas in the middle you have stuff like Kings and whatnot that kind of stand out as specific songs. But towards the end there, it gets really... unified or something.

PK: Well we didn't record them in that order, so that wouldn't mean anything to us. That's just the illusion, I suppose, or maybe it's part of the reason it was structured like that. If that means something to you, maybe it did to Steve or whoever as we put it together. That was one of the reasons why I decided to go back and do some work with The Church again, because I felt that was a transitional thing and we were heading into a new soundscape. I thought there was still something worth tapping there.

TI: How did that one sell?

PK: Badly.

TI: That was the impression. It didn't really get big attention in America.

PK: Yeah, that was another reason why I left the band, because I didn't think we'd be asked to do another album anyway.

TI: That was my other question, about the practical life of a musician. I was listening to an interview the other day with Robyn Hitchcock, and he was talking about how his big concern was to have a career that wasn't based on hit singles.

PK: Yeah.

TI: It seemed kind of strange, because you get the impression that somebody like Robyn Hitchcock is going to be not so concerned about the day-to-day aspects of making his living, but then you think, well sure he is. So how much do you think about what impact something's going to have financially?

PK: I was always aware of the economic necessity for a band's existence, but you can't be penny wise pound foolish. More important than that, you don't want to damn your own respect for the thing you love the most by prostituting it. Luckily, out of all that, if you write enough songs, generally you find with the right attitude that no one knows what that miracle hit single kind of thing is. Sometimes it just pops out. You don't write them, they just happen. So, out of a collection of songs, you're going to naturally have things that are going to suit different moods, because out of your own boredom, your mind will travel to different spaces. You don't consciously think you're going to write a hit single. You've got all of those things in your mind that can happen with anything you're doing. You just hope that there's going to be something that's popular, something that's going to be good album music, something that's going to be aggressive, something that's going to be peaceful. If you've got a rich imagination and you sit down with other people who have rich imaginations, you're generally going to have a spectrum of music. That's how we've always worked. You put it out, and the popular song, if it's going to be really popular, you'll have a really popular album. It's as simple as that.

TI: Yeah.

PK: Simple as that.

TI: That was certainly the impression that everybody got from Starfish, that Milky Way got Starfish into a lot of people's homes.

PK: I knew that was going to happen too. I knew that we needed a novelty song, you know. I call that a novelty because we didn't even record it with Richard. It was such a novelty we couldn't rehearse it.

TI: Really?

PK: Yeah, it was done on Synclavier in another part of the studio while we were recording the album. They brought it in near the end of the album and Marty, Steve and I just put our parts on top of it.

TI: Wow. That's remarkable, because it is the only song on there that has really noticeable keyboards, but it seems like the kind of song that you can kind of just bang out in five minutes and get your backing tracks.

PK: Yeah, well for some reason, because it was acoustic - Marty's part was an acoustic part - we could have done it these days, really, but at that time, that was enough reason to flinch and not rehearse it, because his part was an acoustic guitar part and he can't get in a room with a drum kit and an acoustic guitar. There's no competition.

TI: (laughs) Yeah.

PK: We thought that would probably destroy it anyway. Yeah, we haven't often recorded just acoustic guitars in the band as a backing track. So that's why that was done like that.

TI: Speaking of recording backing tracks and drums and things, Gold Afternoon Fix, from what I understand, had a lot of drum machine on it.

PK: Yeah.

TI: In some places you can really hear it and in others you can't. I always thought that Essence seemed like the sort of song that could be one of those big kind of epic numbers, in the Life Speeds Up, Is This Where You Live kind of vein.

PK: You're right. That was one song that should never have been done with a drum machine. To Waddy's credit, Waddy Wachtel, the producer, he didn't know anything about drum machines. So what he did was just lifted Richard's drum tracks off the tape and put them in a drum machine, imitating Richard's drumming. So it didn't sound like a drum machine, particularly, and that song sped up. From the beginning, it used to speed up, then get into full swing like a locomotive and then stop, slow down, and speed up again. Waddy said that no song should ever speed up.

TI: Really?

PK: Yeah. And, being Jewish, Steve couldn't help saying "well how about Hava Nagila"?

TI: (laughs)

PK: He had no reply to that, of course, but he did the best he could at the time. There were a lot of problems. Richard wasn't playing well because there was dissatisfaction between him and Steve, actually. Unfortunately, emotions play a strong part in the ability to play music.

TI: Yeah.

PK: It was a shame. I can't really listen to that album, really seriously. I'd listen to it and listen to the songs and imagine how we used to play them live and how the demos were recorded. They might have been better to put out, really. But they were much rougher, obviously, and people would feel that it wasn't recorded very well. But you're right, that song is a rock song. That's one reason why with Iridescence and my album, I refused to use drum machines. And even then, I ended up having to do two tracks with a drum machine anyway.

TI: Why was that?

PK: Um... Richard basically didn't get it together. I don't really like to say it, because I think Richard's drumming is better now than it ever was. But at the time in the studio, he was under a lot of pressure, and I think I wore him out.

TI: That was another issue that I had. As I mentioned, I think Priest=Aura is fantastic, but I thought on the Gold Afternoon Fix tour, maybe Jay Dee Daugherty didn't have as much of a feel for the pacing of some of the stuff when I saw you in Minneapolis. It seems like towards the end of the set, when you were doing songs like Tantalized, Jay Dee kept it at more of an even pace and didn't really kick it into high gear, as it were.

PK: Yeah. And that's always a problem. The parallel is when you record songs as demos for the first time, they're really exciting but they're rough. When you record them properly, they always lose something. We did the most confident tours with Jay Dee playing drums. We'd go on stage, but because we knew that he'd be reliable, we were confident and we would start at a point and end at a point. It got better and better and better, then that reached a plateau, as everything does, but it was certainly a peak achievement. With Richard, one night would be fantastic, the next night would be rubbish. That's the dilemma for any passionate artist too, in their own attitude to their playing. If you want to have a spontaneous thing, you're going to have to take big risks. And Richard's spontaneous.

TI: I've got a couple videos from some shows in Milan during the Starfish and Gold Afternoon fix tours. On the Starfish tour with Richard, Richard's just on fire. There's one track on there, I think it's When You Were Mine (note: it was actually You Took), and he did this gigantic long buildup where he's just going (Thomas makes rapid, loud drumming noises), and it won't break in to the chorus, it just won't do it, and then finally he brings it in, and it's just like such an, if I can use the term, orgasmic kind of expression. I just watch that and go "man, Richard was just so fantastic."

PK: He's a great artist. Many people have said what you said, and it's been a dilemma, really.

TI: He was a very nice guy too. As I mentioned, when I saw you guys in San Francisco, I walked with Richard for about ten minutes. That was the first time I'd ever seen The Church, and I was in San Francisco with my parents, had no idea that you guys were even playing. I found out about it that night and I'm like "oh God, my favorite band is playing here tonight, this is unbelievable." And then I got to talk to Richard for about ten minutes and I was just floored by it. Thought it was just fantastic. And so ever since then, I've been the big Richard Ploog supporter.

PK: Hmmm. He's a bit like the Syd Barrett of The Church, you know?

TI: (laughs) Yeah, but Syd got consistently worse.

PK: So did Richard.

TI: But you said that now his playing is as good as ever.

PK: Yeah, well, when he puts his mind to it, he's fantastic. But his behavior freaks people out. He's a passionate human being and he's very unreliable at times. That's the artistic side. He's played with a lot of people, he's played with a lot of bands around here. Some of the best people on the alternative underground scene who are doing very well now. They love to work with him, they all respect his drumming so much, but they find him really unreliable. It's the saddest thing.

TI: There's a lot of people that have this kind of reverence for the material that was done with Richard, more than anything else. Another thing I noticed, was all the albums that had Richard had ten songs. If you're talking from Blurred Crusade up to Starfish, they all have ten songs. I was wondering if that was any specific plan on anyone's part.

PK: Yes, it's a spiritual numerological element.

PK: I'm joking. (laughs) Yeah, I don't know. I think we started thinking in terms of CDs, so we probably wrote more songs knowing that we could get them on anyway.

TI: Did you think in terms of album sides or cassette sides, or do you do that in your own work? I always think in terms of there being some kind of delineation between halves on an album. Maybe that's just because I grew up listening to albums. Do you see that?

PK: Yeah, they still put things out on cassette anyway, so you still have to think in sides and intermission. That's one shame about CDs, they don't have an intermission. I think to take up forty-five minutes of somebody's time, impressing on them the same culture, or from the same persons' opinion of culture, is quite a demanding thing at every listening. Sometimes, I think that's why it's nice to have a shuffle thing on your CD. That's what I do myself. Even with my favorite artists, I get sick of having to listen to the whole album right from the start every time. That's a good thing. You find yourself thinking, oh I really like side two better than side one. It's not just an illusion, I think that there is a richer thing if you can put on just the second half or put it on shuffle and get a different set of songs first. That's the big problem with CDs, yeah. Is that what you're saying too?

TI: Well, I was wondering how much the pacing of the album, the selection of tracks and the specific delineation between side one and side two, if that's a major thing.

PK: Especially because of cassettes, you still think of opening side two with a track. But maybe we're just kidding ourselves, because if it wasn't there we would just forget about it, you know? It gives you another perspective to look at what you're doing when you arrange the titles. So yes, simply YES!

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