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The Church frowns on labels: MWP on labelling the band Print E-mail
Wednesday, 24 August 1988

Marty talks to the Birmingham Alabama Post-Herald

 

Birmingham (Alabama) Post-Herald (USA)
August 24, 1988

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The Church frown on labels

by Susan Keith

It takes two tries to get through to the Denver hotel room where Marty Willson-Piper, guitarist for The Church, is sleeping the day away.

The first time, the phone rings five times; there’s a sound like someone picking up, then putting down a receiver; then a busy signal.

The second time, a very sleepy sounding Willson-Piper answers the phone. The conversation goes something like this:

How are you this afternoon?

“It’s afternoon?”

Are you up to doing an interview?

“You don’t need to be awake to do an interview.”

Thus establishing that alternative rock musicians don’t have to be Good Humor men, Willson-Piper is ready to explain how The Church, a quartet of three Aussies and a Briton (Willson-Piper) have crossed over from being a band with a cult following to being a band with more than a cult following.

It might have had something to do with doing interviews. It definitely had something to do with the band’s latest album, “Starfish,” which The Church is touring to support. Tonight they’ll play at Sloss Furnaces amphitheater in a concert that is part of the Fifth Annual Great Southern Kudzu Festival.

The first single from “Starfish,” “Under the Milky Way,” was a No. 1 hit on college rock charts, and got enough Top-40 notice that Arista Records, the label that released “Starfish,” decided to release The Church’s back catalog as well.

That single, like the rest of The Church’s music, is difficult to characterize in one or two words, though the band’s ringing guitars and Steve Kilbey’s almost monotone vocals have frequently garnered The Church the label “neo-psychedelic.”

“It’s definitely and over-simplification, with a little bit of truth in it,” Willson-Piper says. “I think The Church has always frustrated people in the fact that it’s been difficult to pigeonhole. We have as much ‘70s influence as we have ‘60s....

“It’s just that one of the guys in the band once wore a paisley shirt five years ago and was seen by somebody who owned a magazine, so we became psychedelic. Or was it that one of the band was once seen walking down the street with a guy who had short hair and a skinny tie, so we were being considered the beginning of the ‘80s pop group? Or one of the guys was once seen playing a lead solo that was longer than five seconds long, so we were being considered ‘70s revivalists?....”

Nor, says Willson-Piper, does The Church fit the mold of a typical band from Australia.

“We never, ever sounded like what an Australian band is supposed to sound like. People have always thought we were English.

“Also, because of being around for eight years, we were considered part of the Men at Work wave of Australian music. And then when that was discovered to be a wave of nothingness,, we were discovered to be a part of the INXS wave of Australian music. And then, we were considered to be part of the Midnight Oil wave of Australian Music.

“The fact is, we’re just a group. We write some interesting songs and do some interesting gigs,” Willson-Piper says, yawning.

The Church has been doing that since 1980 when three Australians -- Nick Ward, Peter Koppes and Kilbey -- began doing shows in their hometown of Sydney.

A short time later, Willson-Piper, who grew up in the Liverpool-Manchester area of England, went Down Under with his Australian wife (from whom he is now separated). There, he met -- and joined -- The Church.

After signing with EMI Australia, their second single “The Unguarded Moment” made the Top 10 in Australia. “Of Skins and Heart,” The Church’s first album, subsequently went platinum in Australia and gold in Canada.

About this time, Ward left the band and was replaced on drums by Australian Richard Ploog. The Church continued recording, turning out two albums (“The Blurred Crusade” and “Seance”) and a trio of EPs.

Finally, in 1984, the band broke into the U.S. market with “Remote Luxury,” an album of songs from their EPs, released by Warner Bros. “Heyday,” also on Warner Bros., followed in 1986.

In January, The Church released “Starfish,” the album that has brought them their greatest U.S. success.

But that success, says Willson-Piper, shouldn’t worry the hippest of alternative rock fans, the music maniacs who only like bands the rest of the world hasn’t heard of.

For folks to whom The Church has become too mainstream, there’s always the solo work done by the band’s members.

Koppes and Willson-Piper have released a solo album a piece; Kilbey has released two.

“I’m probably doing more alternative work, you know, than I ever was, even though The Church is more commercially successful than it ever was, at the same time,” Willson-Piper says.

“The dedicated fans... if they feel they need to, can get that kind of direct, street credibility from anything we do by ourselves.

Willson-Piper (who, when asked his age says “49 -- I must be, to be so wise”) says he’ll continue working outside the confines of the band “as long as I’ve got the faculties to create.”

Next month, while the rest of the band is taking a break from the grind of touring, he’ll play a week of solo shows on the East Coast. And in December, he’ll do another solo album.

For the band, it’s life on the road until the end of the year and into the studio in February.

“We never make our albums with much pre-production. We just rehearse for two weeks before we make the album and write the songs then,” Willson-Piper says. And don’t expect that album to fit any mold.

“Trying to be one thing -- a lot of bands are happy with that. The Church isn’t. I don’t ever want to be tied down to being expected to be what the public thinks we should be.

“We make the records; we decide how we do it.”

The Details: Center Stage presents The Church at 8 tonight at Sloss Furnaces amphitheater as part of the Fifth Annual Great Southern Kudzu Festival, sponsored by the Birmingham Post-Herald.

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Transcribed by Mike Fulmer

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