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Steve talks about Priest=Aura on its remastering Print E-mail
Saturday, 03 March 2012

A revealing interview with Steve about Priest=Aura, the songs therein and his life at the time.

 

LIKE most addicts, Steve Kilbey was outwardly unconcerned about his looming ruin in 1992. He and his psychedelic sparring partners in the Church were poised for a slow crash in the chasm of rock'n'roll oblivion. In that glorious narcotic dawn, the view from the precipice was all that mattered.

''I was deliriously in love with opium and heroin,'' the singer says, contemplating the world through impenetrable sunglasses. ''I was using them every day … drugs were becoming very important to me.''

The standard disclaimer of the damaged survivor has an ambivalent edge. ''People can only visit that space for a short time with narcotics. Quickly the honeymoon is over,'' he says.

''But in that brief period I found a muse. I found a mojo. I found a state that I wanted to imitate with music and I wanted to let people in on this state. I thought it was something worth trying to replicate.''

By that time, the pop world had made up its mind about the Church. For most, Under the Milky Way offered a finite legacy. But the pop world had not suited their freewheeling spirit. It wasn't until four years later that they forged their opiated masterpiece in Priest=Aura.

Remastered and reissued this week, the release is the centrepiece of an ambitious 30th-anniversary concert tour titled Future Past Perfect. The triple-album reconstruction begins with the band's latest, Untitled #23, and concludes with Starfish, their US-made commercial benchmark.

''Priest=Aura … still sounded incredibly futuristic in February so that shows how futuristic it was 20 years ago,'' guitarist Peter Koppes says. ''Steve was probably at his best on that album.''

The praise is not given lightly. After co-founding the Church in Sydney in 1980, Koppes became Kilbey's most bitter foil in a band torn apart by personal conflict. His recollection of the album sessions illustrates the growing division that would end with him leaving the band in late 1992.

''We were all dabbling in opium treacle,'' Koppes says. ''It was the demise for some people in the band, notably Steve, but it was the most amazing creative experience.''

But drugs were just one of several factors in the making of Priest=Aura. Though the Church had fled the stultifying control of Los Angeles executives and producers, the money was still flowing from a US record company dreaming of another Milky Way.

With the luxuries of distance, a top-notch Sydney studio and a producer of their choice, ''everything fell back in our hands'', Kilbey says. ''I seized control for the last time before I fell down the hole of heroin addiction and lost it and didn't care.

''I got my vision down intact.''

It's a vision swirling with allusions to ancient myth and history that seems to prefigure the nightmarish here-and-now of a profoundly lucid and self-aware narrator. ''Everything is going wrong,'' he sings in Mistress, ''all my songs are coming true.''

On the title track, Kilbey casts his band as opium-addicted casualties returning from battle with a satanic race who ''kill their enemies by loving them to death''. The perils of his chemical condition weave like an unsettling premonition through Paradox (''I've got a nickname for you, I call you weakness'') and Swan Lake, in which he tells his newborn twins that he has spent money for their ballet shoes on ''avoiding another crash''.

The most revealing is The Disillusionist. In his liner notes to the new edition, guitarist Marty Willson-Piper calls that character ''the sickest of all [Kilbey's] inventions. Cynical, evil, unscrupulous, antagonistic, perverse … a ruination in flesh and blood.''

''But that song is a description of me as well,'' Kilbey says. ''The whole album is autobiographical but it's done with archetypes, characters. Universal and personal.''

Willson-Piper would stand by Kilbey through his dark decade of addiction before the Church staged their remarkable renaissance.

''I didn't leave heroin behind, it left me behind,'' Kilbey says. ''One day it suddenly occurred to me … that I was happy and heroin wasn't a part of the equation.''

Priest=Aura was a commercial failure that ended the Church's US record deal and dashed any hopes of the band becoming an alt-rock phenomenon to rival R.E.M. - as they had, fleetingly, with Starfish.

Regrets? Kilbey has a few. But this album isn't one of them. ''I knew it was like a gambit in chess, where it initially seems like a sacrifice but it ultimately turns around in your favour,'' he says.

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