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EXCOMMUNICATIONS: RAM talks to Marty about In Reflection Print E-mail
Wednesday, 22 April 1987

From RAM magazine April 22, 1987, Marty talks about his career with The Church and the release of his first solo album, In Reflection. 

 

RAM (Australia)
April 22, 1987

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EXCOMMUNICATIONS

by Steven Cadbury

In a couple of weeks, guitarist MARTY WILLSON-PIPER becomes the second member of the Church to release a solo album -- and the others have similar plans. It’s but one of several extra-curricular activities he’s undertaken since the band came off the road late last year. STEVEN CADBURY discovers it’s all down to individual expressions of character...

Marty Willson-Piper’s been busy lately, what with playing live (James Griffin’s Subterraneans and his own solo acoustic spots), contributing poetry to a magazine and writing a booklet of technical information -- on the inspirations and often humorous circumstances of recording his forthcoming debut album, entitled In Reflection.

The record’s a collection of Marty’s scattered spare moments in various lounge rooms, a kind of have-four-track-recorder, will-stay-put-long-enough-to-use-it. Marty sings and plays everything, except for bass on one track and the occasional extra backing vocal, and committed the songs to tape between August ’83 and April ’85. When the usual slow process of artwork is completed, we should see it by the end of this month. It’s basically a collection of demos -- including Volumes, which appeared on Persia -- but considering it was finished two years ago, it’s taken a heck of a long time to meet its prospective public.

“When I recorded it, it was at a time when Steve was writing most of the songs. I only got a song in occasionally with the Church, as most of them didn’t fit into their idea of things and I wasn’t in a position to know anything about how to release it. Also in ’85, the Church lost its management and I took over a lot of the work involved -- I tour-managed the band in Australia, which I still do. I like to keep control of things like that. But between all the sorting out and me having to learn what I was doing, it was taking a really big job on.”

Further time was consumed by a heavy international schedule, back and forth across the northwest end of the globe, down here for a national tour and recording of Heyday, then off for further sonic sermons through America, Canada and Europe.

“The last two years have been absolute madness -- I haven’t had a home in that time, until I moved in here around five months ago. It’s the first time I’ve got all my stuff out of storage and had the chance to sit down for ten minutes. So I end up doing acoustic gigs and working hard with other things, but I was stable long enough to think about what I wanted to do -- and when EMI dropped the Church a few months ago, it gave all the members the opportunity to concentrate on things of their own. That’s why In Reflection is only now seeing the light of day.”

The results of their individual efforts will be among us soon. Steve Kilbey has a second solo turn called Earthed -- an instrumental album with optional book of poetry to read along with it -- and Peter Koppes is about to release a solo single.

But Marty is now talking of his past, in hometown Thingwall, Liverpool. He took up guitar with the encouragement of his cabaret musician older brother and formed bands in high school -- some with his close friend Andy Mason (who sings a little on the album). Both ended up in London, started and dismantled another band, went busking, took the street corner strum across the continent on whatever jingled in the hat at the end of the day. In other words, Marty’s no stranger to solo performance....

A shave off 22, he arrived in Sydney on April 20, 1980. By May 6 he was in the Church. “They’d been together a few months as a trio and were looking for another guitarist, so I went to see them and was asked to join. Within six months we had a recording contract, and within the next three we had a hit. It all happened quite quickly. I was really lucky.”

Marty writes in his album’s accompanying booklet that “great music is not big money, promotion or studios”, but an issue of time, place and heart. I wonder where this leaves the Church’s past use of heavyweight producers like Peter Walsh and Bob Clearmountain in all this do-it-yourself avocation?

Nowhere apparently, as the Church again intend to use an outside producer on their next opus. But Marty wants to make people realise there’s more to music than state of the art manufacture, and talks at length on the aesthetics of its many presentations. And he states the obvious in saying, “Some of the worst records in the world cost the most money.

“A song’s written on an acoustic guitar, then put on four-track with a drum machine; the demo’s taken to the band, they rehearse and play it live, then record it in a studio. That’s five or six stages! By the time you get to the mixing stage, the song’s been watered down to such an extent that it’s invariably lost the essence of the original idea.”

Which brings us to In Reflection, Marty’s got no pretensions about the album, doesn’t intend releasing singles from it and feels no sense of competing with the corporate charge. It’s a self-contained package: booklet, lyric sheet and 52 minutes of music. Quite a variety of sounds are on offer, and naturally six and twelve-string electric and acoustic guitars predominate -- but there are also simple drum machines, keyboards and a few odd effects (for some tracks, the snare drum was a pile of gradually shredded Sydney Morning Heralds). One of the record’s major characteristics is its vocal harmonies, soaring and knitted superbly amid the bump and chime -- not exactly a Church trademark. Given the quality of the Willson-Piper pipes, it’s a little surprising.

In Reflection is not intended as a one-off project, and Marty doesn’t think Church fans will be surprised by the work so much as the fact that he’s so prolific a songwriter. Most of his live solo stuff isn’t on the record, and to add to the flood, he’s intending to make an acoustic LP embellished with spots of cello, double bass and low-key piano -- “something like Chelsea Girl by Nico”, he informs. With whatever time the Church can spare, he’d like to form his own band and record in that guise, too.

Meanwhile, back at the altar, the Church are in the process of signing new contracts -- Arista for the world, Mushroom here. Once the wheeling and dealing is concluded, producer and studio choices will be made as the quartet gird their loins for the next LP.

“The Church are gonna write together for it -- Steve’ll probably come up with three or four of his own and Peter and I will be submitting some songs, but as we’ve got our own outlets these days, it’s not so crucial.”

Marty’s outlet is Chase Records, a label he shares with James Griffin. The whole thing more or less happened for him -- rather than chasing a deal, a Chase gave him one. It happened like this: “I played the tapes to James and he liked them, and unknown to me he told Sebastian Chase, who turned up at a gig about two weeks later. He liked the solo set, requested a listen to the tapes and decided to pick up on it.”

A voracious reader, Willson-Piper draws particular inspiration from turn-of-the-century literature as much as he’s stimulated musically by his own vast collection of records. As a fan in his own right, how did he feel about being voted Guitarist of the Year in the recent RAM Readers’ Poll?

“I don’t like to feel I’m not skillful enough to deserve the accolade,” he says carefully, but he’s still amazed as to why his partner Peter Koppes didn’t make the shortlist. “Perhaps people aren’t so much into my playing as the fact that I move about the stage a bit more than he does. It’s not really fair -- it gives the wrong impression.”

He’s also a little concerned that his solo project be received in the correct light, stressing that it’s a mere extra-curricular outlet for material that otherwise might not be available. In other words, there’s no sense of creative one-upsmanship within the ranks of the Church -- just a case of different characters, different inspirations....

In Reflection isn’t trying to compete on the same scale as the Church,” says Marty. “At the same time, I hope it doesn’t get ____ basicness -- don’t expect it to be this _____ great over-produced thing... it’s ____ character.”

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Transcribed by Mike Fulmer

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