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Home Brewed Kilbey Pt 1 and 2 Print E-mail
Saturday, 07 February 1987

A long and detailed interview with Steve from Juke magazine.


JUKE National Rock Weekly [Australia]
Feb. 7, 1987
No. 615



By Scott Howlett

Steve Kilbey’s finally released the solo album he’s been planning for years – probably since he was eight years old. Here he talks to SCOTT HOWLETT about the LP, poetry and the changing fortunes of The Church

Steve Kilbey, lead singer of The Church and the recent maker of his debut solo album, says he started writing songs aged eight years old.

Also aged eight, Kilbey would amuse himself, he says, not by playing football or discovering little girls in an amusing game of doctors and nurses, but by slinging a plastic guitar over his shoulder, slapping a Beatles or Rolling Stones record on his parent’s turntable and pretending to be performing at the school social.

Since then, with or without The Church, Kilbey has released five albums, three Eps and countless singles. He, furthermore, is regarded both critically and publicly as arguably Australia’s finest writer of popular songs.

Kilbey and The Church returned from their second US tour in August last year and, aside from a national Australia tour which lasted a few weeks, have been pretty much silent.

Right now, had it not been for their dropping by EMI Records, the four piece Sydney-based band would have been immersed in the studio recording a follow-up album to their critically applauded but largely commercially ignored Heyday LP.

Instead, The Church’s US-based manager is sitting through a range of prospective record deals from a number of both US and Australia record companies. The Church are sitting back waiting and Steve Kilbey is seated at a table at a café in Sydney’s spacious Hyde Park ready to be interviewed.

Why do a solo album?

“Because it was there. I had lots of songs which I felt were worth releasing, basically that’s it. As soon as I mentioned it, a number of people expressed their interest so I thought: ‘I’m probably onto something here’, and decided to go with it.”

Why release it through the small Red Eye Label and not EMI Records?

“Well, for a start, we’ve just ended our relationship with EMI, so that might give you an idea of why I wouldn’t want to.

“Oh, basically, I think it is an independent album. It sounds like an independent album, I wanted it to be treated like an independent album. I didn’t want people to think I’d just gone into the studio and spent $60,000 making this album, because that isn’t the case.”

Are you hoping the album will sell many copies?

“No. It’s for connoisseurs. It’s not designed for mega sales. It’ll probably sell 5,000 copies here, 10,000 copies overseas. That’ll be good.”

How did the other guys in The Church feel about you doing a solo album?

“I think it went from ‘I don’t care’ to ‘good on you mate’. No one is saying: ‘If you do this, I’m going to leave the band’.

Stories which emerged from overseas during your tour there suggested The Church had broken up. Can you tell me about that?

“I don’t really want to Scott, because it’s just like dragging up bad old things. There was a lot of pressure on, we were working hard, things got out of hand and then they got better again. It’s just not worth bringing up.”

Well, if you can’t go into the reasons why, could you just tell me the facts?

“I really don’t want to talk about it. It’s still close you know? When I write The History Of The Church or The History Of The Church As Told To Scott Howlett, I’ll probably spill the whole beans.”

As you can appreciate, however, I have to make mention of it in the story.

“But no one knows about it apart from the people who were there at the time. No one in Australia knows what happened.

“See, what you have to remember is that there are real people and real emotions involved, and we’re all really happy with each other again, everyone is happy to be in the band, and it’s just an unimportant incident.”

But I heard that Marty Willson-Piper did leave the band and then came back.

“OK, Marty left the band for one week and then came back. That’s all it was.”

How did the US tour go?

“Is this (article) about me or The Church?

Well, it’s about you, but you are the leader of The Church.

“Well, this is old news. Yeah, you know, I can’t even remember. We did our concerts and everyone liked it.

“It’s a funny thing when you come back from a tour, because you say: ‘They really loved it’ and you’ll just have to take my word for it. We could have been playing to empty halls and people might have been throwing cans at us, and I can come back here, lie my head off and say we played in 5,000 seater halls every night, got six encores every night and Bob Dylan came backstage and laid down a line of coke for me.

“The tour was really good, actually, and they liked us everywhere we went. Heyday did alright, the band are happy again and now we’re just sitting back, biding our time and waiting for the best album deal to come in.”

Did you enjoy playing live in the US. You’ve said in the past you didn’t like playing live all that much, has your US experience rejuvenated your interest?

“You can’t say yes or you can’t say no. Actually being on stage was fun... most of the time. Touring around – which the break-up of the band was a result of – was a lot of pressure and a lot of hard work. We weren’t flying around in Lear jets or anything like that, we did it pretty hard.”

What are your impressions of the US as a country?

“I’m not really qualified to say because I’ve just seen it from a limited point of view. All I ever see when I’m on tour is backstage rooms, the gig, sitting on the bus and sort of walking downtown trying to find a vegetarian restaurant.

“I don’t love being there (the US) all that much. There’s an uneasy, ‘anything could happen’ feeling in the air in America.”

Not in Europe?

“Not as much, no. It’s not that I have had anything nasty happen to me in the States. Oh, a guy sold me a big bag of oregano in Philadelphia. It was this big black guy who sold it to me, I wasn’t going to get it out and take a sniff. I just said ‘thanks mate’ and gave him the money... and went home and put it on my salad. But that’s the only thing really heavy that happened while I was there.”

Are there any plans to put together a live band in support of and to promote your solo album?

“Oh, God, this morning I had a lucrative offer, a really nice offer, to play some gigs, but I don’t think so. I don’t really think it would be worth all the drama and all the hassle to throw a band together and do a big gig for it not to come off. It would just be horrible and embarrassing if it didn’t come off. I think I’m not going to do that. I feel I don’t want to rehearse for two weeks with a bunch of guys just to play a few gigs. It would just be like starting out again, unnecessarily, I think.”

One thing I was surprised about in respect of the solo album was that you didn’t include the lyrics in the package. Why not?

I don’t like including lyrics with albums, but I’ve always buckled to pressure. I don’t think it good practice to put the lyrics with an album because it encourages people to think of the lyrics as separate from the songs. I know people like to have the lyrics so they can read what they’re all about, but, I think ultimately, they enjoy the songs more if they can’t dissect them.”

But you are critically and publicly acclaimed as a great lyricist, perhaps the finest in Australia, surely you’d wish people to have them so they can say after perusal: ‘Well, he really is great’? I tend to think that if people don’t have something in front of them, they won’t remember what was actually said.

“Well, I don’t know. There are definitely arguments on both sides, for and against. I really agree with what you’re saying, however, I feel, lyrics are lyrics, they’re not meant or intended to be read.

“For this album I just felt it better not to include them. I think it would have been pretentious to do that with this, essentially, a home made album.

“But perhaps you’re right. Perhaps people are going to go: ‘Jesus, the only thing I liked about the bloody guy is his lyrics and they’re not on the album, so stuff it’, and don’t buy it or make it into an ashtray.

I have heard you are going to release a book very shortly. When will that be launched?

“Hopefully by the middle of March.”

Who is publishing it?

“I am.”

And distribution?

“I’m not sure yet. It’ll be available through mail order, but there’s someone else helping me with the whole thing (publicist Phil Tripp). Book shops might have the good sense to stock it.”

Is it a thick or thin book?

“I’m not really sure, because I wrote it all on a computer and have never really seen it in the book form.”

Is it prose or poetry?

“Prose-poetry actually. It’s paragraphs rather than verses. More like Dylan Thomas rather than Henry Lawson. It’s not a da, da, da, da, da, dah type of work. It’s more like a ‘I was sitting talking to Scotty Howlett, and the sky turned scarlet, and the earth opened up!’ It’s more like that stuff.”

And what are your commercial aspirations for that to be?

“To be bought, read, consumed and enjoyed. For the aficionado.

“For me, there’s not really any point doing anything for anybody else other than the connoisseurs, aficionados... and myself.”

And when the book is released, the likes of Meldrum and commercial radio jocks are going to say and think: ‘Oh, Kilbey’s really done it now. He’s gone right over the top. He’s a real bloody wanker.’ Right?

“Well, I don’t even think I’d warrant that attention from them. I don’t think they’d even know or care, or even be bothered to comment on the fact that I’d brought out a book. But I imagine that if someone did bring it to their attention then that would be their comment, yes.”

How different is Steve Kilbey the poet and prose writer to Steve Kilbey the bass guitarist, singer and leader of The Church or Steve Kilbey the maker of a solo album?

“Well, basically, I think I’m good at a number of things and I think I can work in a number of mediums. But I think what I am trying to do with all these different things is get to the same point.”

And what is that point?

“Well that is art. That is art,  trying to describe that point in all those different ways. If you could just say it you wouldn’t have to write poems or prose or songs or paintings. You could just say X equals Y and that would be the equation. But it’s not as simple as that.”

Thrill is in the chase.

“Thrill is in the chase, yeah. But I don’t consider anything I’ve done as a masterpiece.

“I think to just be the bass player of The Church is very limiting to me. I mean, I enjoy it, and I owe a lot to it, but it’s also very limiting to be just that, and I like to dabble in a lot more things than just standing on stage and singing ‘Unguarded Moment’.”

Next week: Drugs and Meditation


JUKE National Rock Weekly [Australia]
Feb. 14, 1987
No. 616



By Scott Howlett

Scott Howlett and Steve Kilbey continue their wander through mushroom fields. Is there a difference between saying you’re the country’s best songwriter and winning readers polls that state you are?

Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors, was often quoted as saying he was a poet trapped inside a rock singer’s world. Are you perhaps similar?

“No. My ambition was not to be a rock star, but to simply be in a rock band, far more than it was to be a poet. However, having achieved that I would like to broaden my horizons.”

It’s a real art to write differently for different mediums. Is the way you write your poetry-prose in contrast to the way you pen songs?

“Well, it’s like being a ballet dancer and a sculptor and people say to you: ‘Do you dance like you sculpt’ and they say ‘no’. It’s totally different writing a song from a poem. With a song you have your guitar and you’ve got to sing ‘Met Scotty Howlett the other night’. It’s got to have a verse and chorus. When you write poetry or prose, you have freedom. It doesn’t have to have a hookline; there are no limitations.

“I like writing both, but it’s not as black and white as that. Writing the book is more irresponsible.”

Some people go out and see a band, some choose to go to the movies, while others attend their girlfriend’s place and f... them. Do you sometimes sit at home and write as your means of enjoyment even though it may never be used?

“Is that question going to be in the article exactly how you’ve said it to me? I’d like to see that question reprinted. Actually, I do all three at once.

“Anyway, sorry, to answer your question, I hate writing anything that I’m not going to use. I hate that. In fact, I’m releasing a box set of all my old songs – all the things I didn’t use on Unearthed. That project will come out as either a box set or triple album, because I hate having all those songs sitting there and not being used.

“I’ll release that on Red Eye Records in September or October. It might even be a quadruple album; I have about 50 or 60 songs.”

When did you start writing songs?

“I started when I was about eight years old but I only started recording them in 1977 at home in Canberra, and I’ve only kept usable master tapes since around 1980-81. So what this box set will be is all the songs I’ve ever written from 1980-1987, which haven’t been used by The Church or did not appear on Unearthed.

“I hate having things that are unused. I don’t do anything unless I think it’s reasonably good. Not everything I’ve done is a masterpiece, I admit that, but everything I do is as good as anything I’ve done. And I think some song languishing on a tape in my bedroom, gathering dust, is probably as good as some minor song on The Blurred Crusade or Heyday, and I think it should see the light of day. And I would never sit down and write something I didn’t think I was going to use in any way at all.”

So you say you started writing songs whilst living in Dapto, NSW, aged eight: you have two brothers (Russell and John) who are in bands. You three must have driven your parents crazy singing all these tunes instead of going outside and playing football.

“Actually, what I used to do – my favourite thing when I was young – when everyone had left the house I used to put on Please, Please Me (The Beatles) or the Rolling Stones 12 By Five and, I used to have a plastic guitar, and I would put that on and I would put a record on and I’d stand and imagine I was at the school social playing all these songs. That was my favourite form of enjoyment.”

When did you move from Canberra to Sydney?

“I think it was 1978.”

And how old are you now?

“That would be telling, Scott.”

Well then, how old were you when you moved to Sydney?

“Well, I’m not going to tell you that, because you’ll just add eight to the sum and work it out. I don’t have the benefit of youth to fall back on like you.”

I wasn’t very smart there I fear, but at least I tried to find your age. Anyway, on one story I read on you, you were quoted as saying your preoccupations included Greek mythology, science fiction, reincarnation, drugs and simultaneous orgasm. Did you say that?

“Yes, but I guess there’s a bit of irony in there.”

Well, of those five points, I’m particularly interested in your thoughts on reincarnation and drugs.

“What, you’re not interested in simultaneous orgasm?”

Yes, of course, but I’ll leave that to Truth and Countdown magazine. What about reincarnation?

“There’s undeniable evidence that it’s actually the way things work.”

What evidence do you have?

“Well, it’s very easy to trivialise it and I don’t want to do that. I guess just to simplify it and not go into a long rave, and to use a very well-worn cliché, I felt like I’ve been here before.

“I know that when I was three years old I had exactly the same mind as I’ve got now: I had the mind of an adult and I could see things as an adult, and I think I was merely picking up where I left off. I feel that the preoccupations I chase in this lifetime, I’ve chased in other lifetimes.”

Do you believe in astrology?

“No I don’t. It always seems to be gross generalisations about someone’s personality.

“My faith or belief, if you like, is some sort of watered down Buddhism or something like that.”

Are you religious?

“Certainly not in the Christian sense, no. No, I’m not religious. I just tend to think the universe operates on a certain set of principles and reincarnation is one of those principles, though I could be wrong. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily mystical about that. I think the same way a caterpillar changes into a moth, people change from snails to dogs to monkeys to ratbags to average people to Gods, or what we call Jesus Christ, and then right off the scale somewhere else, and I think that’s what happens in this world.”

Do you think people reincarnate as other people or maybe a dolphin or some other animal?

“No, I think people go on evolving. It doesn’t make any sense that a person would change into a tree because there wouldn’t be any point in that, would there? I think you keep progressing.”

When do you stop?

“When you realise what’s going on you can get out of the system and never come back. There wouldn’t be any point in coming back after all that.

“The basic principle is that we are all one, that everything is the same thing. That: I am, he is, you are me and we are all together (I Am The Walrus – John Lennon). The aim of the game is to be reunited again.”

And your other preoccupation, drugs. In what sense are you obsesses with that?

“One of my main preoccupations now is reality, and I don’t think this is reality. I don’t think sitting here in Sydney is all there is. I think there is a multiverse of things going on right now that you and I are oblivious to – which is part of our conditioning to become adults. This is why they take young Scott Howlett to school aged four years old. Now, young Scott Howlett really believes there are fairies in the garden, and he talks to flowers and he makes believe. And then they take him to school and fill his head with Captain Cook and one plus one equals two. And when he emerges from the other end he’s no longer aware of all the other wonderful things going on in the world.

“And I think one of the great things about drugs is that it’s like putting on a pair of 3D glasses and suddenly you can see that ‘one plus one equals two’ is not the only reality operating.”

Which drugs in particular are you talking about?

“I’m obviously talking about LSD and marijuana and magic mushrooms and ecstasy, and I’m also talking about drugs which haven’t been invented yet or have been invented but have been suppressed.

“Who gives a fuck who wins the America’s Cup; who gives a fuck about patriotism and apartheid and all the frightening things which keep the system rolling.

“That’s the frightening thing about drugs for governments – they say it makes people amotivational, makes them lazy. They no longer want to participate in the whole stupid game.

“That’s my preoccupation with drugs, apart from the pure hedonistic reason that it feels good.

“Now, I’m not recommending them to anyone, but it always seems to puzzle me that drugs are illegal, fuck, all the other horrible things that go on in this world aren’t illegal, but this one is because it’s bad for you, or: ‘We’re not sure if it’s bad for you, but until we find out we’ll make it illegal and we don’t want you to do it’.

“Drugs are just one of the ways. There’s meditation, yoga, fasting, karate and living in a cave on a hill – they all open up your consciousness to the possibilities of this wonderful, glorious universe we’re living in; instead of ‘get in my car, drive to work, go to the office, fill in the forms, go home, watch Dallas, go to sleep, and do that year in and year out and be manipulated by the government’.

“Drugs are the quickest way for the western man to at least see there’s more going on in the world than just the normal things. There’s more to life than who won the footy and how fast my car goes, and if I don’t find out what that is in this lifetime I’m doomed to come back time and time again until I do find out. You just repeat the class, never get out of primary school.

“I’m certainly not fighting any crusade for drugs, recommending them or glamorising them; it’s just a way to find alternative forms of consciousness.

“Look, go down to the pub – there you’ll find lots of guys drunk – they’re just exploring a different consciousness. Unfortunately, it’s not going to get them anywhere. Ironically, the one drug which is legal to consume – alcohol – is the worst for us. It doesn’t give us any insights at all and badly damages our mind and body irreparably. Having a glass of beer or getting drunk once in a while is probably a good release, but to do it every night and as a regular form of escape doesn’t achieve anything except damage and a pot belly.”

Do you think marijuana and LSD should be legalised?

“Yes, of course.”

Do you think heroin should be legalised?

“I don’t know about heroin. I don’t take heroin. I’m not interested in heroin.

“Put it this way: If the government wants you to go and fight in wars; if the government want to take your children away from you when they are four years old and put them into school, and if the government makes you do all the things it says you must do, then I think they should let you have your pleasures and vices as well.”

Surely you’re not recommending that people shouldn’t go to school.

“I think schools are very damaging, very damaging in general. I think the way society is set up is damaging and schools perpetuate society by taking wonderful children – innocent, naive children who operate intuitively and who can amuse themselves all day with two bits of wood and a hammer or two dollies and a dollhouse or just sit and talk to the cat all day – and turning them into little adults. It puts them (children) in a whole class structure – I’m better than you because I’m in the A class, for example. It fills their head with useless knowledge, useless fucking knowledge. There’s not one thing I know now which I use today that I learnt at school.”

But school teaches you a discipline.

“Yeah, discipline, just what we need, more discipline in the world.

“I’m not saying ‘don’t have schools’. I’m just saying the education system and schools as they stand are damaging.”

Schools also teach you in motivation.

“But they don’t. It’s the opposite. It’s ‘you will learn about this if you like it or not’. The whole basis of the thing is to turn out people who will fit into our system. And I don’t think it’s a good system.”

I liked reading about ancient history and if I wasn’t at school I wouldn’t have learnt about it.

“Why couldn’t you have learnt about it at home?”

Because I would have preferred to sit at home listening to my new Cold Chisel record.

“There you go. What’s more important?

“I just think people should think for themselves a bit more, try expanding their consciousness and try expressing themselves. But what do I know? I’m just an idiot in a rock group.”

You don’t believe that.

“It’s just a disclaimer I guess. Like a warning sticker on an album.

“I’ve made so many mistakes: TV shows I’ve gone on, gigs I’ve played, things I’ve said, things I haven’t said that I should have. It’s just inevitable. Except when you’re in a rock group you make your mistakes in public.”

Well, it’s like Paul Keating isn’t it? “We’re living in a banana republic” will go with him for the rest of his life. John Lennon: “The Beatles are bigger than God”, Steve Kilbey: “I am the best songwriter in Australia.”

“And you know what? Every time they have a fucking readers’ poll they vote me the best songwriter in Australia. So, what’s wrong with that? It’s just that I wasn’t allowed to say it. Why is that? Do they really think I am the best songwriter or is it just because I said it?”

What do you think?

“It’s impossible to qualify something like a song. How can you do that? You can say best high jumper because you can measure it, but you can’t do it for a song.”

But it must be nice for you to read that people regard you as the best songwriter in Australia. It must be nice for your ego.

“I’m desperately trying to sublimate my ego and keep it under control so that the last thing I want to see is me winning things like that.

“By boosting your ego you’re keeping yourself in the here and now forever.”


Transcribed by the legendary Mike Fulmer

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