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Steve talks about Unearthed Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 February 1987

This is from Beat magazine and sees Steve answering some fairly aggressive questions about his solo album, Unearthed.  The editor should be shot, by the way, because the interview is printed over a large picture of Steve and some of the writing is illegible. I'll do my best with it though.

This is Part One of a stated three part interview - anyone got the rest? 


Steven Kilbey: The Record, The Book, the Man

The news for fans of The church is that, after much talk of the contrary, they have not split up and intend to record together in the future. The news for the rest of the country is that steven Kilbey, bassist and driving force behind the aforementioned band, is embarking upon a solo expedition that might take him further than even he envisage.

Chapter One of this new career sees him beating the bootleggers at their own game by releasing an album of home recordings done on four and eight track. The album "Unearthed" is followed by chapter Two: a book of prose poetry in which Steven explores the inner most possibilities of the surrealist subconscious. As Terri Robert soon discovered, Chapter Three reveals a man with a mission - that of enabling others the pleasure of experiencing and enjoying the music and literature that has become his art.

Chapter One - The Record

What prompted you to release a solo record?

I've been planning to do it for quite a while but just never got around to doing it. I mentioned it to various people and they were urging me to do it. John Foy from Red eye heard the tapes and was very enthusiastic and it just blossomed from there.

How long had you been working on this batch of songs before you decided to record them?

I write the songs as I record them. i put them together piece by piece - like building a house. Some of the songs are very old and date back to 1981 but most of them are about 1985 vintage.

The title "Unearthed" suggest to me an uprooting or change of direction. Are you cleansing yourself of the past with The Church and embarking upon a whole new chapter in your musical career?

That's one way of looking at it. Actually Unearthed has many connotations; there's the unearthed connotation of find gold things, digging them up and putting [them on display?] Also there's the thing of not being on this earth any longer, being un-earthed. [There are] a lot of different approaches in calling the record that.

As far as divorcing myself from The Church and going on a new [direction, it's] pretty true actually. I'm anxious after all this time, to show people that I'm capable of doing more than playing bass and singing "Unguarded Moment", and the things that I have planned for the next couple of months should set the record straight.

Is that why you kept this selection of tracks to yourself and didn't unleash them via The Church?

Not really. The Church have a new policy since our last album of basically writing the songs together. It was fairer for everyone money wise and democracy wise that it should happen. So there's no real need for me to contribute songs that I've written myself to The Church any more. So that has freed me so that everything I write on my own , I can do what I like with it. 

Is it just that fact that makes them unsuitable for the Church, or is there something else?

Some of them are obviously not suitable for The Church, the ones with synthesizers and stuff. when you have a church song you've got to have a drum kit and two guitars going, otherwise what are those guys going to do? so some of the songs were automatically out of the running right from the word go. there are three or four songs on the album that I wouldn't have minded seeing The Church do, but the new policy basically put them out of the running. 

 Do you expect anyone to "understand" this record?

I don't think people should try to understand works of art - not that I'm saying my record is a great work of art. I think you 'understand' mathematics and science but I don't think people should try and understand poetry and music and paintings. I think this is where a lot of critics got into trouble with me in the beginning, by trying to understand what I was trying to do with my music. it's impossible because it's on another level than that.

By recording this slightly obscure album you've almost completely thrown away your chances of becoming a commercial success. Obviously that doesn't bother you?

Well, I've just been told that the album has already sold five thousand copies and the overseas orders are still pouring in - which isn't bad for something that was recorded at home on an eight track. I wouldn't be surprised it it gets up to ten or fifteen thousand by the time it's had its run - which isn't falling that short of what The Church would do. In one way I do agree with you. I am making a small statement that Steve Kilbey for one, doesn't give a fuck about the establishment - because no-one would put this record out except an independent company and i want to pursue my own course.

Was there a time with The Church that you were striving for mega acceptance, say, to be as big as INXS?

Well I know we could never be as big as INXS. we never tried for that. We have tried to be more successful than we are, which I think, in some vague way, we deserve to be - and we still haven't given up hope of doing that. We've never seen ourselves as being an across the board mega-pop-teeny-Countdown Award type band such as INXS. It's like designing a Jaguar and expecting it to sell as many cars as a Holden Commodore. it's just not designed to do that.

For people that bought the new album on the trength of Heyday, how do you think they will react to it?

I would imagine that anyone who bought Heyday and bought my album expecting it to be like Heyday would be very naive and almost deserve what they got. having said that, i think that anyone who bought Heyday would find at least half the tracks on it they would like.

You are often credited as the best lyricist, if not songwriter in the country. Yet you are not selling as much as the likes of Michael Hutchence or John Farnham. Is there an element of hypocracy [sic] there?

If I am the best songwriter or lyricist in Australia - which I find very hard to qualify - if that is true then I think you should just look at history and see that the best things aren't necessarily the most popular. Just because you're the best or the cleverest or whatever doesn't necessarily mean you'll sell the most. I think history will bear you out in almost any artform.

The record has a certain inconsistency about it. was it intended that the tracks didn't flow together to form one congruous piece?

It is inconsistent. i agree with that. But the thing is, you can make a consistent record and someone's going to say it's very 'same-ish'. you say it's inconsistent but someone else has said it's "delightfully varied" - and I can agree with that too. there's tracks that are very basically done on a four track very quickly and also tracks that are done on an eight track where I've taken my time and done them properly. there's acoustic tracks and electric tracks and synthesiser and it's just all over the place.

I just wanted to throw fourteen songs to the public and say perhaps you'll like all this". I mean, if you like someone who paints in oils, chances are you'll also like their sketches. I'm saying ti's all different but it's the same person generating the whole idea behind it all.

Do you consider this record to be a totally self-indulgent exercise?

I've never really understood that phrase. each song was writtenbasically for myself in the beginning, but when it got to the stage of putting it out, I was really hoping other people like it. I am someone who really craves recognition and feedback from the public, and if 'elf indulgent' means that I don't care what anyone else thinks then that isn't true, because I want people to like it. I'd be very disappointed if people didn't like it.

In The Church only a part of the Steve Kilbey persona was revealed. Do you think you've exposed yourself with this record?

Not really, I think I've revealed more [aspects?] of what I can do. I don't tend to expose myself through music or poetry - it's more of an artform to me. It's not an exorcism where I put my unhappy childhood on paper or anything like that. 

[Will this] first solo record see the beginning of the end for The Church?

Possibly. Obviously I realise that solo albums are dangerous things. I'm committed to The Chuch pretty much 100% that's an important thing for me topursue. However, obviously the success of this album - on it's own level and the critical success - obviously show sme that if the shop sinks, i a t least have a lifeboat to take to tget away. But people shouldn't see it as the beginning of the end. Just as a possiblity what I shall continue to do if The Church does go. I don't intend to be in The Church forever, but I do intend to be myself forever.

Have you considered taking the solo record on the road?

No, not really. Not at this stage. [I will wait until??] the Church has gone - If the Church goes - before I do that.

Have you considered writing music for film or theatre?

[I'd love to do] music for film or theatre, and if you know anyone who I can write for, please give him my number. for the last five years - although i win the reader's poll [saying] Steve Kilbey's the best songwriter and best lyricist and blah, blah, blah [nobody] has ever approached me to write any music for their film or their play and Id really love to do that.

would you be very selective as to what films you would prepared to do?

I think at this stage, if someone offered me something really bad I'd think - well, at least I can give it a decent soundtrack.


--Transcribed, while cringing, by Brian Smith 

Last Updated ( Friday, 22 June 2007 )
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