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Innocents Abroad: Steve reflects on Heyday and touring Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 May 1986
Steve talks to a British magazine in May 1986

Unknown British source
May 1986

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INNOCENTS ABROAD

“Once,” says Steve Kilbey as we climb up the stairs, “I’d done loads of acid and I came up here and opened my cupboard, and I thought t myself ‘I must be the luckiest man in the world to have all these lovely shirts....’”

This is one of the nice things about this job -- you can knock on a stranger’s door and demand to be shown the contents of his/her wardrobe.

This was January 1986, in Sydney. The Church’s Heyday had just been released to ecstatic reviews (most of them which said they might not have liked The Church before but had their minds changed) but unfortunately the wrong choice of first single had not seen that enthusiasm translated into record sales. They should have gone with “Columbus” rather than keep it for the third single.

Heyday hasn’t quite cracked it for The Church through the rest of the world but it’s brought them a lot of attention.

In the U.S. the album has sold double their last record there, and their tour there with Echo & The Bunnymen has opened them to new crowds. It is unfortunate that The Church’s ‘head’ music finds it difficult to compete with the sort of disco-pop permeating US Top 40.

In England, the LP and “Tantalised” are getting action on the alternate scenes although The Church are crossing their fingers desperate for a Top 40 crossover.

In Europe, they’ve reconsolidated themselves in their strongholds. Madrid, which they played in 1982, welcomed them back with two shows and an enthusiastic crowd display which the band were so knocked out with they still remember that gig fondly. Italy was another discovery. They did some supports for The Cult on some 5,000-seater stadiums and were ecstatic at how a huge audience could transmit such energy into their songs. Their Italian record company is keen for them to get back there for TV appearances.

But there were problems, of course. In Sweden, Steve Kilbey was so angered by the way that drummer Richard Ploog kicked in his kit from over-enthusiasm -- halfway through a song! -- that he quit after a huge argument backstage.

A few days later, he’d come back but then it was Marty Willson-Piper’s turn to feel the exhaustion of six months on the road and the disappointment that such a good LP was not getting its due recognition.

After and argument in Germany with Kilbey, he stormed off. They played as a trio in Hamburg that night and pulled it off with two encores. But a couple of London shows -- including a prestigious appearance on Grey Whistle Test -- had to be abandoned. But Marty soon returned, and the band intend to do those cancelled London shows.

They’ll do some recording in London shortly, and then head back to America for more dates, with more European shows and a possible quick trip through Australia before the end of the year.

As Peter Koppes says, “We’ve tasted success on the stadium level, and we want to go for it.”

* * *

In London, Steve Kilbey talks about the band’s relationship with the Australian critics... and the creeping disappointment that Heyday wasn’t quite the mega-seller they were hoping it would be.

“First they loved us, then they knocked us down. Then they said, oh, they’re survivors because they’ve come through all that, they’re good old boys and we assumed our place in the Pantheon of Australian groups and we’re deemed as alright guys now.”

So it’s doubly ironic that Heyday, a ravishing beauty turned loose into this warmly loving climate turned out to be not such a heyday after all.

Backstage at the Mean Fiddler Club in Harlesden, Steven is being philosophical.

“We’re idiots,” he says. “We’ve finally realised it’s no good making a good album these days. We might as well make one monster hit single (not that we know how to) and nine pieces of rubbish. So, I think gone are the days for us of making good albums. I think we’ll have to go for the jugular at some point.”

Oh no! I cry, instinctively.

“Still, it’s better than working in a bank,” he says, remembering that he was supposed to be philosophical.

“It all depends how envious you are. You can look at all the legions of people above you or you can look at all the legions of people below you. It depends on whether you see music as a football ladder.

“Like, if you see a handsome man walk down the street you think, I wish I was as handsome as him. And then you see a real ugly bloke and you think, well, I’m glad I’m not that bad.”

* * *

We travel even further back now, right back to the beginning. To 1980 when Steve Kilbey and Peter Koppes played their first gigs as The Church -- a three piece in those days with their first drummer Nick Ward.

What was happening then?

“Everything had to be New Wave. It was all guys with short haircuts and skinny ties. Everyone was sort of like The Motels doing short, punchy, three minute songs. Wacky was the word. And I don’t know why, but I never liked rock music to be wacky. I thought it had the potential to be more than that.

“I’d always been into that area of whatever you want to call it, automatic writing, or surrealism, the whole dream landscape, and Peter was playing guitar in a band that was doing a Raspberries type trip, kind of end of 1965 guitar stuff, and people told us we were psychedelic and we thought, well, yeah, I guess we are.

“Our initial intention was to be psychedelic in the real sense of the word, so that when people saw us, some kind of mind altering process would go on because the music was so nice and the lyrics evoked certain images.

“Not like some revival band, you know, they wear little Roger McGuinn glasses and write songs called ‘Out Of My Mind’ or something. They adopt the trappings of psychedelia, the Rickenbackers and the haircuts, but without ever seeing what made ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ or ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ so good. They do it without trying to get to the root of it and seeing why it was so unique.

“But I think people have been making psychedelic music all along; that sort of communication with the subconscious, putting you in a different state of mind instead of plain old meat and potatoes smoggy grey world, and I don’t limit it to what happened between 1966 and 1968. David Bowie has done it. The surrealists were psychedelic in a way. Some Greek mythology is psychedelic, and what the Aborigines do in dreamtime is too.”

What sort of things go through your mind when you’re writing a song?

“It’s like a struggle between the intellectual part of your mind trying to reason and argue with the part of your mind that the inspiration comes from. Like you might write I saw a beautiful lady by a lake... and the intellectual part of your mind thinks, you can’t say that, people are going to think it’s silly. We’ve got to try and out this in a more workable sort of way. Or, I can’t say that, somebody else wrote it.

“Everything you do is like a friction between these various processes going on. It’s not like you’re just sitting there with your guitar and this big flash comes and you suddenly write this song.

“On Heyday it was the first time we’d written all the music together, because I’d normally write everything, but we decided to do something different. So we all wrote the music and when that was all recorded I listened to it on cassette and waited for some sort of mental bridge to form so I could put down in words how the music was affecting me.

“Er, it all sounds terribly serious, doesn’t it?”

Do you take yourselves very seriously?

“On one level we do, and on another level we realise it’s a very ephemeral thing that no one’s going to care about in ten years’ time.”

Colours

Steven colours his conversation with these lovely sounding words like ‘ephemeral’ and ‘envy’, and his song titles are beautiful sounds on their own: ‘Myrrh’, ‘Tristesse’ and ‘Tantalized’. Words that easily invite the mind to travel through time and look at things along the way in unexpected, personal ways.

Watching The Church on stage at The Marquee during the first of their shows, I notice two things. One is how there is a shining about Steven, a radiance that has nothing to do with lighting. However, this isn’t the sort of thing you can tell someone. Excuse me, but did you know you were glowing just now? So I let it pass and put it down to meditation and herbal tea.

The second is how The Church seem almost like intellectuals against the context of The Marquee. He frowns. Well, I saw, the furthest thing from Spinal Tap I can imagine.

“You should have been on the American tour we just did! I thought I was turning into David St. Hubbins. Everything that happened in Spinal Tap happened to us. We had the food that didn’t fit. We had people quitting the band and rejoining.”

“The bus broke down in the middle of Texas and it overheated. So we could drive a mile and then we’d have to stop for 15 minutes till it cooled down and we could drive another mile.”

-----

Transcribed by Mike Fulmer

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