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Triumph and Loss - Steve talks to the Guardian Print E-mail
Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Steve talks about Australian politics and some of the reactions he got to Marty's departure from the band.

Originally published at https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/sep/16/steve-kilbey-the-church-frontman-on-asylum-seekers-whalers-and-new-album

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The Church are a band with a rich history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

For 35 years the indie rockers have been one of Australia’s most universally acclaimed bands, racking up indisputable classics like The Unguarded MomentAlmost With You and, possibly their most loved song, Under the Milky Way, all in the face of internal tensions that would have destroyed a lesser band.

It has been a road filled with members leaving and returning, management snafus, bad deals and financial wipeouts, opiate addictions, creative blocks and bitter feuds. It’s a wonder they’re still alive, much less making music.

Therefore is seems apt that the band’s most recent album (their 21st of original studio albums, with a live album, short film soundtrack and some extra compilations to boot), Further/Deeper, is another mix of triumph and loss.

Triumph is represented by what the album itself sounds like: a band rejuvenated, finding their feet after a tumultuous five years, with a few new tricks alongside their stock-in-trade of atmospheric guitars and psychedelic lyrics – perhaps most notably on the sprawling epic Miami.

Loss is represented by the absence, for the first time in the band’s career, of guitarist Marty Willson-Piper, his place taken by former Powderfinger axeman Ian Haug.

Willson-Piper’s departure has left founder, bassist, singer and chief songwriter Steve Kilbey as the only continuous member of the band, and he’s sounding downright chipper as he prepares to head out on a US tour, with the Church co-headlining with fellow 80s cult act the Psychedelic Furs. “The future’s looking relatively bright,” Kilbey says.

That’s a new development, mind. For a long time there was a question mark over Willson-Piper’s departure. Officially he was “not available” for touring in 2013, but the truth is he never quit. Neither was he fired. He had abruptly moved back to Sweden and cut all contact, and after six months in limbo Kilbey, guitarist/co-founder Peter Koppes and drummer Tim Powles decided to carry on without him.

While Haug was an inspired choice, it was not a universally popular decision with the public. Koppes had left the Church in 1992 before returning in 1996, but at least he’d had the good grace to do so before Twitter and Facebook made it easy for shocked fans to express their breathless outrage.

“When Marty left the band there was a bit of vitriol aimed at me,” Kilbey admits. “No one was going to come and murder me, but there was a bit of social media hate.”

Is that unusual these days?

“Well, not really,” he chuckles. “When I started writing a blog I wrote ‘everyone who eats meat can fuck off from my blog right now’, but I knew that by writing that I was inviting wild reactions. I had a lot of carnivorous people angry with me, but I’ve never had any physical threats.”

Kilbey’s no stranger to expressing strong opinions, such as his deep disappointment with the state of current politics. “I wish to fuck Australia would stay out of the Middle East,” he snarls. “I would have thought that Australia would have had its fingers burned by that by now.

“And I’m just a pop singer and I don’t claim to understand this, but it seems to me that western countries, mainly England and America, have been fucking around in the Middle East for over a hundred years without doing any good.

“When Abbott described it as ‘baddies against baddies’, that’s about the extent of our knowledge of what’s actually happening. It’s a messy situation, and I’m ashamed at how we’re dealing with it.”

As you can probably surmise, Kilbey’s not a huge fan of the Coalition government. “That’s an understatement. In all of my long years I have never seen the country so disillusioned with their politicians.”

He sighs as the conversation turns to Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. “I’d rather our navy were out sinking Japanese whalers, personally. And talking about welfare cuts when you’ve got a $12bn contract for the jet planes [F-35 strike fighters] that don’t work and will be out of date by the time we get ’em – you could have everyone in Australia on the dole for that!”

Even so, when looking at the band’s recent fortunes – the album, the new line-up, near sold-out tours in Australia, Europe and the US – he can’t resist a political quip.

“The Church have kind of done a John Howard,” he laughs. “We’re Lazarus with a triple bypass. We’ve come back from political oblivion.”

There’s a pause. “Actually, I think I’ll retract that comparison.”

Last Updated ( Saturday, 07 October 2017 )
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