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Steve on the bands resurgent popularity Print E-mail
Saturday, 03 March 2012

Steve talks to Max Easton on the band being rediscovered by the mainstream around their 30th anniversary. Originally published in Brag magazine.


The Church have been one of the mainstays of Australian rock ‘n’ roll since their inception in Sydney in 1980, but unlike their contemporaries they’ve never spent time off; the band has toured and released at regular intervals over their thirty-year lifespan. This steady and perpetual grind has seen them, at times, almost forgotten – so why have people started talking about The Church again? “People have started thinking about us again, haven’t they?” muses frontman Steve Kilbey, from his Bondi home. “The problem with us is that we’re a very subtle band. We’ve just been in our corner making records decade in and decade out, and meanwhile, people are always looking for novelty and new things. Then after a while, they all of a sudden go, ‘Oh, The Church, they’ve been around a long time. They’re pretty good, aren’t they?’ Then you have a movement where people sort of ‘discover’ you. We are getting new attention; we just went off the radar for a while.” Although they never really went away, their time off the radar – in addition to their lengthy lifespan – has seen The Church presented as a band of the past, as evidenced by their prominent billing at Homebake’s Classic Edition last weekend. But that doesn’t faze Kilbey. “I don’t care if we’re ‘classic’, or ‘heritage’, or ‘vintage’ – as long as we’re still there,” he assures me. “If you keep going long enough, sooner or later you become a ‘classic’ act whether you like it or not. Not many bands out there have been going as long as us… It’s like [there were] ten thousand bands stumbling through obstacle courses, and we just kept stumbling until we realised we were the last man standing. I don’t think we did anything right in particular to remain this long.”

Despite having collaborated recently with the likes of Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Ricky Maymi, and pursuing a number of solo endeavours and side projects, Kilbey has always had his thoughts focused on the one place. “If I want to play, I want to play with The Church. I’ve always wanted to play with The Church,” he says adamantly. “We spent 31 years of arguments and god knows what fucking else just getting here, and the one thing we have is that we can go on stage and start playing. We’re like a football team that’s been together a long time; we have our own ways of doing things and communicating. It’d be an enormous pain to have to start again. I really like playing with those guys – I’d rather play with them over anyone else, even if I had the choice.”

One of the most definitive aspects of The Church throughout the 1980s was their insistence on the dual guitars of Peter Koppes and Marty Wilson-Piper; the band ignored the rise of synth technology for a sound that was their own. “We defi ned ourselves by reacting against all that; [using synthesisers] became one of the things we weren’t going to do, so it was never on the cards that we’d start doing it. I think the guitar is a lot more expressive an instrument than a fucking synthesiser; you can do a lot more with a guitar than you can with a synthesiser. There are great synth players as well, but a great guitar player… they can get so much more out of the instrument, I think.”

As an alternative Australian band of the early 1980s, The Church have often been associated with the other mainstays of ‘80s Aussie rock; namely Grant McLennan and Robert Forster’s Go-Betweens, and Dave McComb’s Triffids. Fronted by poetic frontmen and featuring the cavernous production and sweeping soundscapes that are undeniably Australian and of a particular time, a label of ‘‘80s Australiana’ tends to fall The Church’s way. But Kilbey rejects the pigeon-hole (“Do you really think we sound like The Triffids? Do you really, truly think that?” he presses), instead painting the label as retrospective inaccuracy, blaming lazy generalisations of what he sees as entirely separate sounds.

“No one referred to us as ‘Australian’ until recently,” Kilbey says. “Now I don’t mind that, I can see that’s a good thing, but in the ‘80s we were trying not to be ‘80s and not to be Australian; we wanted to be cosmopolitan and of any era.

I don’t think there are a lot of similarities between The Church and The Triffids and The Go-Betweens, other than that we all had a bit of integrity. I think those two bands were much more [about] trying to paint the Australian landscape than us; we weren’t that concerned with representing Australia. In the ‘80s, it didn’t seem like the material I should have been writing songs about – but Grant and Rob, and The Triffids, they did a good job of getting that Australian feeling. “But I don’t know if The Church have got it,” he says. “If people think we do, that’s okay, but we’re not really like them; it’s just a convenient thing to lump us together... It’s an ‘after’ thing. They might label the surrealists, but many of them had nothing in common, or were even at odds with each other – but now [with hindsight] it’s easy to lump movements together. At the time we didn’t feel a part of any movement, and we didn’t feel connected to anybody at all. And we liked it that way.”


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