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TimeOut Sydney speaks to Steve about Untitled #23 and listening to old records Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 January 2009

A nice interview with Steve about the recording of Untitled #23, and his relationship with older material.Originally published at


Untitled #23 is the first album on your own label - it appears that the band is becoming more of a cottage industry these days. Yeah, I think that's sort of the way for the church – and the way for everybody, really. I think the album business has gone DIY from now on for most people. The companies don't have the hegemony of being the only ones who can afford those expensive studios. Now you can do so much work at home in the bedroom with a computer, you know: you're ready to go.  

That's hardly a new step for you, though: I remember reading an interview about [Kilbey 1989 solo album] The Slow Crack many years ago, which you recorded at home for $300 and compared with [The Church's 1988 album] Starfish, which cost over $300,000. You made the point that it's not a thousand times better. No, it isn't. It's definitely reaching the law of marginal utility there when you spend more and more money. And then you look at Axl Rose, I mean 17 million [for Guns n' Roses' Chinese Democracy]? Everyone in Australia could of made records for the rest of their lives with that amount of money! It's just crazy.

It seems an artifact of a different era. Yeah. I mean The Church used to have a bit of that when we used to record in LA and live there for three months. Everyone was renting apartments and driving around in cars and I guess there's a lot of waste in those situations. Record companies were bloated back in the old days.

Even so, it takes some serious effort to piss away $17 million... Doesn't it! How could you ever imagine you're going to make it back? God, you must have to sell a lot of records these days to make 17 million bucks back. I don't reckon there'll ever be another one like that again though: it'll be like a cautionary tale: a music version of Waterworld. Our record was done in Tim [Powles, drummer]'s studio, which is a converted garage under his house, and I think it sounds pretty kosher: quite organic and warm.

That was something that struck me actually: the albums sounds like four guys playing together in a room. Yeah, that's what it was. It's organic with a little bit of modern jiggery-pokery. I think at the end of the day I come back and see music as this humanist improvisation. I was really into drum machines and stuff back before most people, back in the 70s, and I understand the appeal and the aesthetic of electronically-quantised music where everything's happening perfectly, but ultimately it doesn't satisfy a need for more than that. It doesn't have enough personality. I guess with The Church, in whatever era we're manifesting ourself, we've always sort of been a reaction against artificial music.

Of course, there was an era when the band was just you and Marty [Willson-Piper] and a whole lot of electronics... Yeah, that [Sometime Anywhere, 1994] was a strange record. You know I can't bear listening to that, it just such a... I don't know what to make of that one.

How do you feel when you look back? Do your opinions of your albums change over time? It happens on a lot of levels. It's like there are so many ways when you remember albums: you remember the times you had when you were making it, the kind of condition you were in and the things you were doing and sometimes that sort of overshadows it. And sometimes you can't bear to listen. Whenever I try to listen to our old records I put them on and go "I'm going to listen to this" and I find within about 10 seconds I've tuned out. It's like doing your homework: you have to read a page of biology and you go "I'm going to get this in my head" but by the second sentence you've already drifted away. My system just shuts down and doesn't take it in.

But surely you had to go back and listen to things when the band were doing [acoustic retrospective album] El Momento Descuidado? Oh no. Someone might have listened to something they did – I would never do that. I've got a funny relationship with it, you know?

Do the old songs still have the same resonance to you, or do they feel like they're not yours after a point? They're not, that's right. You are covering yourself and that's what they don't understand: when I stand and sing 'Under the fucking Milky Way', I just feel a detached cynicism, which I don't want to have. I have no relationship with it, you know, and I never really did. It was just a song I knocked out and now it's assumed all this palaver...

It would be hard to stand before an audience and not play it, of course...
Yeah, but I don't feel like I'm singing my own song. That's where showbiz rears its ugly head. People don't want me to be insincere, but then I'm forced into it by having to sing these old songs and they don't mean anything to me. So then you're just performing them, I guess. You just go out there and fucking sing it the best you can, you don't have to have a relationship with it.

Can you climb inside newer songs? I was playing with The Triffids in Perth on the weekend and those are songs that you can really inhabit. When you do [late Triffids' leader] Dave McComb songs you can kind of shut your eyes and you're really there. I wish my songs were more like that. 'Under the Milky Way', when I close my eyes, I don't see anything. When I do 'Wide Open Road' and I close my eyes I really am on that lonely stretch and I'm just outside Perth on a hot summer night and chasing my woman down who's run off with some guy and I'm lost in the bush... you know what I mean? It's all happening for me. That's the kind of song I'm looking for. I think some of the songs on the new album, like 'Anchorage', I can really inhabit. When I sing it I can really imagine that I was some sort of executive living in Alaska and this and that happened. And then you can bring something into the song rather that just doing an empty performance of it.

The Church play at the Factory Theatre on Sun 15 Mar.
Untitled #23 is out through Unorthodox Records/MGM.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 01 August 2009 )
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