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Steve talk to Time Off magazine about staying fresh Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Very interesting look back, Steve tells us how lucky he has been, and that Untitled #23's success was a surprise to him!

TIME OFF interview

Time Off #1452 November 25 2009

Holy longevity, Batman

Since their humble beginnings in Canberra's 1980s new wave scene, through line-up and direction changes, the church have managed to keep a captive audience for nearly 30 years. Singer-songwriter and bass guitarist Steve Kilbey chats to Mitch Knox about staying fresh three decades after being unleashed on the world.

If you've ever tried your hand at creative writing - in any format - you'll understand how hard it can be to come up with consistently good ideas. So to look at a band like The Church, who have been steadily pumping out evocative and chameleonic music for the better part of thirty years, is to look at a band with a secret; some kind of sonic fountain of youth. Surely the proof is in the pudding: the band released their 23rd chronological release (and 20th full-length) earlier this year, Untitled #23, to widespread critical and audience acclaim, showing no signs of being an act old enough to have fathered some of you. But lead singer/bassist Steve Kilbey maintains they approached Untitled #23 like they do all their albums. After all, there's not really a secret - or if there is, he's not too sure what it is.
"We're never focused," he says. "We're never sitting there like one unit, going, 'Let's do this', and everyone going, 'Yeah'. It's pretty much, like, whatever's going on at the time; people going through their different individual musical phases. I don't know what the other guys are listening to; I don't know what kind of album they wanted to make. So I guess we just randomly apply our process of writing and we never know what we're going to come up with, and I guess we accidentally came up with this one this time, which people seem to like.

"I wish I knew what [our secret] was, so we could do it next time, because next time we're all going to be arguing about how to do it again, and first of all, no-one will be able to agree on how we did it, and no-one will even be able to agree to what we actually had done in the first place. I think when we finish a record everybody sees it differently."
What caught Kilbey off-guard about Untitled #23's release was not so much everyone in the band having different perceptions of the album, but rather that the audience saw it very differently to him.
"I'm a bit like a parent who wasn't that impressed with his child, and then the child went out into the world and did well and suddenly I was like, 'Yes, well, I always knew he'd be a good boy'," he says. "I am, seriously. I didn't have that high hopes for this album. I thought it was... I don't know. I don't know how I felt towards it; kind of a bit indifferent. Then, when it did kind of well, I changed my opinion. I had to.

"I thought we were banging against a wall and I thought it didn't really matter what we would do that people would kind of… for a long time now, we've been getting reviews that say, 'Oh yeah, another good album from The Church. Next!' You know? So I felt like, well, we've made another kind of good album, and people will say the same thing, and I was a bit resigned, I guess. I was kind of surprised when people noticed it."

But notice it people did, and it wasn't long until the band launched their So Love May Find Us Tour earlier this year - which included a trip through the United States and Canada - and now the band is returning to our shores to complete their tour.
"I think it's going to be pretty good," Kilbey admits. "Tickets are selling quite well in the cities, and Perth's already sold out - two nights in Perth - so I think it's going to be a good show. We have to figure out what we're going to play yet, but I think it's going to be good.
"[Expect] a lot more intensity than you probably think you're going to get. We've become very intense. We're really rockin' these days. We're really loud. We're quite brash. We're going to do a lot of songs off our new album, and we'll do a smattering of old and mid-period stuff."

To coincide with the tour, the band are unveiling three additional releases: a four-track EP, which boasts a near-50 minute runtime and was recorded during the Untitled #23 sessions, and two re-issues - a remastering of Shriek: Excerpts >From The Soundtrack, on which the band collaborated with American sci-fi author Jeff VanderMeer, and a reissue of Back With Two Beasts, an album originally released in 2005 in online digital format.
Says Kilbey of the EP's unusually long duration, "Yeah, I think there's a 36-minute long instrumental track on it, that's why you'll find that enormous length.

"I didn't have 36 minutes spare to listen to it, so I don't know what it is. 36 minutes in a day, that's a big chunk of your day. That's like 1/48th of your whole day to hand over to listen to some bunch of geezers having a jam."
To hear one of Australia's music legends speak so derisively of himself is jarring, but Kilbey insists he and his bandmates are not over the hill yet.

"I think potentially we could go on and still make some very, very good records. Age shall not weary us the way it has wearied other bands," he says. "But what we have to fight off is that thing that hits middle-aged and elderly people, of sort of just going through the showbiz kind of motions, and The Church is really determined not to do that. Well, we haven't so far, and I'm kind of onto it. I'm onto it.

"And every time it creeps in, I try and do something about it. We can't help getting old, but we can help becoming that old, stupid thing, where we're like a parody… But obviously as institutions and individuals and even civilisations grow old, they tend to become corrupt or dry or they crumble or they can burn or they can become arrogant; it's hard to resist all these impulses and cheat the machine, kind of. At least I'm aware of the syndrome, and I will be battling it."
But at the end of it all, regardless of what lies ahead, Kilbey remains pretty thankful for all that's gone by.

"You know, I wish I was a few rungs further up the ladder. I wish I was richer and more successful, and younger, and had a nicer car, and all that," he says. "But on the other hand, I know a lot of geezers that started playing guitar at the same time as me, and now they've got really boring day jobs, and I get to stay at home and not do very much except make music.
"Whatever happens, I've kind of had a good run. I can't deny that. I have had a good run. For 30 years, I've eked a living out of showbiz. Even if it stopped tomorrow, and I had to go and get a job in the post office as one of my relatives recently suggested to me - said I'd be a good postie, and I thought, well, okay - I have made 30 years out of strumming a guitar. You can't be too bitter about that."

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