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Excellent interview with Steve about Isidore - Written In Sanskrit Print E-mail
Thursday, 28 October 2004
Originally published at  

First rule of doing a phone interview: call on time. Or if you live in a state that doesn't observe Daylight Savings Time like, say, Arizona (because who needs an extra hour of sunlight here in the summer?), be sure you take that into account when arranging your plans for a call to Bondi Beach, New South Wales, Australia. "You got your times wrong, didn't you?" are Steve Kilbey's first words when I dial him up on a Sunday evening (early Monday afternoon Australian time). I have called an hour late. Disaster. Or it could have been if the charming and unfailingly witty gentleman, best known as the vocalist/bassist/lyricist for The Church, wasn't kind enough to delay taking his four-year old twin daughters swimming so we could discuss, for nearly two hours, Isidore -- his current project with Jeffrey Cain -- as well as musical contradictions, his method for writing lyrics, coming into his voice, and why being fifty in rock music doesn't mean sacrificing style or grace.

Heather Space: I honestly, without reservation, can say Isidore is one of the best things you've ever done. It's amazing. And it was weird, because when I initially heard it -- I think when I had talked to you about it before, I had not heard anything from it, because for whatever reason I couldn't download the mp3s...

Steve Kilbey: That's good!

HS: Yeah, I thought so, too, actually.

SK: You know, I regret that now, that we did that. I think one, alright... but three was ridiculous, to tell you the truth.

HS: I did finally download "Refused", and I downloaded "Saltwater", but I missed "Transmigration", and I was really grateful that I did not hear "Transmigration" before because in the context of the album, it's so perfect, and I'm happy my first exposure to it was surrounded by -- I don't want to say this is a concept record, because it's not, but there's a definite theme running through it. It plays out as such, like scenes unfolding, one big story from beginning to end. From one song to the next it might not necessarily have this complete seamless quality, because there are moments of intense emotion, or focus, or vitriol; but it was so cool to listen to the record all the way through, and have this feeling that you've been taken on a journey. It's by far one of the more emotional things you've ever done, as far as just -- raw. It's incredibly raw. And I was surprised by that. But with Forget Yourself, I could see that coming through -- was this complete before Forget Yourself?

SK: They're co-parallel things, actually. Yeah. Like nights off I had from Forget Yourself. And it happened over such a long time, because Jeffrey gave me "Transmigration" back in 1998 -- could it have been? Could it have been that long ago that he gave me that? It must have been.

HS: '98? Wow.

SK: It must have been when he first gave me that -- I'm sure it was '98, maybe it was 2000, but I think it was '98, when I first got "Transmigration". And then through 2002 and 2003, every now and then a song would arrive. Or two songs would arrive. Yeah, so it was done over such a long period of time. It was probably going on before Forget Yourself and going on after Forget Yourself, and all during.

HS: So when was it actually completed?

SK: Well, Jeffrey was out here at Christmastime mastering it, so I guess you'd say that was the official conclusion. I guess I did the last thing for it, which was "Ghosting" -- that was the last one we did, and I guess that would have been October of last year.

HS: Especially in the vocal performance, there's a lot of similarities as far as the pure punch in it, but they're two completely different records in their feel.

SK: Yeah.

HS: Your brother John Kilbey says it's the best thing you've done since Starfish -- what goes through your head when you hear that?

SK: Oh... [Sighs] I don't know. I don't know why he's saying that. I don't know why people have to... [Pauses] I don't think Starfish is so -- I think Starfish is successful, but I don't think it's so great. But in 1988 when it came out, maybe it was, but now after all the things that have happened, it just doesn't seem that particularly amazing or great, you know? And it seems people are really mixing up quality and quantity; they're just mixing up the quantity that Starfish sold with how brilliant or anything it was. I think the songs on this are as good as that, it doesn't have any relationship to that either, really, they're all just points on a map, aren't they?

HS: Well, do you think it's from more of an emotional standpoint, as far as --

SK: It's got that silvery kind of distance, is that what you're talking about? I know what you're getting at. It's very complete, in its only little way, kind of perfect. There's no raggedy edges and things at all, but it's got this impenetrable, sweet, melodic thing around it that Starfish had. And in that way it's kind of similar. I would really be happy, of course -- of course, it goes without saying -- if it could sell the way Starfish did. [Heather laughs] That would be great. And it easily could. If those people who bought Starfish heard this album I'm sure they'd like it, but that was so long ago...

HS: I guess my question was more about Starfish being, for a lot of people, their introduction to the Church. And there is a lot of emotional investment. For a large portion of hardcore Church fans Starfish was their album, and there's a strong attachment, and I guess I saw John's comment as a compliment from an emotional standpoint, being engaged by something, really being captured...

SK: Right. Well, I just don't know. I've said this a lot of times: it's really hard to be the curator of your own work and set them all up and know where they all stand. I tried to do that for about four albums, five albums, and I just thought -- they are like children. They're all different, and they're all good at some things and not so good at other things, and you're fond of them for some reasons, and not so fond for others. Really, in my own mind, I don't look back and see Starfish as some wonderful kind of thing and everything before and after it being not up to that. I try to realize the significance it has, and obviously it does have significance for a lot of people. It's one of those real albums that after shows people come up and they always talk about, whether they're a youngster like you or an oldie like me [Heather laughs], they still talk about that idea that they knew what they were doing the day they heard "Under the Milky Way". It's become a milestone in their life in some way.

HS: On the subject of "Under the Milky Way", real quick, with the release of Donnie Darko, which is now this huge cult phenomenon of a movie... I see mix websites and "Under the Milky Way" is everywhere, being dropped left and right. How does it feel for you, fifteen years on, to have this song being discovered by a new generation of kids who may not have heard it otherwise?

SK: Yeah...well, I have a very selfish thing where I just wish that song would draw them to what I do now. And I can see why people don't believe you can find a song and it would be old, and you'd go "Oh, I wonder what they're doing now" -- because most would go on, if it was that long ago -- "If he is even doing anything anymore, I bet it's kind of old and tired." And that would be what you would expect. And I think that the only gimmick I really have now is to be one of the few guys, and there are some others, but to be one of the very few guys who actually is getting better as he gets older, as you would expect someone to do at any given profession. I think I probably said this in another interview but if I was a doctor or an architect, I would expect at fifty I would be right at the peak of my powers. And I don't see any reason as a musician, or a songwriter, or a lyricist, or a singer that that shouldn't apply in the same way. The only strange thing is that people are kind of noticing it, and kind of talking about it, and that just shows how weak the other people were who got worse as they got older, and what suckers they were, and that they weren't real to start with. It was all just an act. And only the real guys -- the Dylans, and the Cohens, and the Neil Youngs, and hopefully I can move into this as I get would be the genuine article. The people who are doing it for the love of what they do, and because they felt they had something to give, not because they were like -- I don't know, the Psychedelic Furs, or fucking Howard Jones, and Culture Club, sort of trotting around endlessly doing a show of their moment in the sun.

HS: Right.

SK: That was never my idea. It was probably never their idea, but after a while, I don't know, a funny thing seems to happen in rock n' roll with people -- they run out of ideas. [Heather laughs] They do! And I read your [review] today, and you said I sang it better now than I would have ten years ago, and that's absolutely true. But there's not a lot of people you can say that for. If you took Rod Stewart and you go no, no, no, the further you go back [both laugh] the better and better he was singing. But why is that? Why does that happen? Why do they lose their...verve? I don't know.

HS: There's a memory I have from the tour for After Everything Now This, watching sound check in Philadelphia. One of your girls was very upset, because her dad had to go up on stage and do sound check, and I remember you singing to her from the stage. It was this cute little song for her, and then you promptly went into "I Wanna Be Your Dog." [Steve laughs] And I remember thinking it was the perfect example of balancing that contrast -- because I think that is where a lot of people do get in trouble with rock music, as far as performers go; being the Rolling Stones and trotting around acting like you're still twenty-five when you're --

SK: Sixty!

HS: -- you're past that, yeah.

SK: There's nothing wrong with being sixty, as long as -- like, the other night I was watching that movie Troy, which is a terrible movie, but there's a few of the old kings in it, [and] I'm starting to check out old guys and thinking 'How do you get old?' And there were some old guys in that, sixty-odd type dudes, and they were totally cool, you know, they had white thinning hair and white thinning beards, but they had the bearing and experience that is just as important, and is a counterpoint to the glowing beauty of youth. And it's unnatural when you're sixty not to be sixty, but sixty doesn't have to be entertainment, and it doesn't have to be some washed-out, bloated old parody. I can't see why -- and as I say, Dylan or Neil Young, you don't see those guys -- they still fucking got their bite, if they want to have it, and they've still got their edge, and I don't see why you couldn't have it at ninety. I don't see why it has to be a thing that can only be connected with youth. I mean, actors can be good when they're old.

HS: Right.

SK: I don't know, I guess I'm... [Laughs] Why am I going on and on about this?

HS: Well, obviously, you have a milestone coming up this year, and it's on your mind because you've been talking about it for twenty minutes, referencing it -- how do you feel about turning fifty this year?

SK: You know, I'm kind of welcoming it because I like I said, now I've got a real gimmick. [Heather laughs] No, it's a real gimmick -- I'm fifty, but I rock! I fucking rock, baby! Give me a guitar and a band, and I'll go on stage and I'll rock. And I still can. But it's not stupid. I've figured out a way to do it. It doesn't have to be, "Oh, little mama!--" [Heather laughs] " -- with your tight jeans on!" That's silly, when you see a guy at fifty doing that. But when you see a guy at fifty come on like you see Dylan or Neil -- I mean, they're way past that now. Nick Cave, he's a little bit younger than me -- he's pushing fifty, though -- and when he sings his songs it isn't ridiculous because they can come from a twenty-year old man, or they can come from a fifty-year old man, do you know what I mean? And Leonard Cohen, and...There's a few, I guess. I think John Lennon maybe could have been one as well, you know, sort of resisting the bullshit of it all. Kind of staying where you always were: independent, and not believing the imbeciles around you, telling you to do this and do that.

HS: Here's a question about Dylan, because I don't know if you're aware of this -- he is now in a Victoria's Secret commercial here in the States...

SK: Yeah, I haven't seen it, but I've read about it...

HS: How do you feel about that?

SK: You know, I was just going to say before you asked me that question, I was going to say of course, from time to time, Dylan has, and does still, succumb to this fucking thing where he listens to someone -- "You should be in this film Hearts of Fire, Bob", "You should sing in "We Are the World", Bob", "You should be in Victoria's-Principle-Secret, Bob." He does it and then he looks the fucking idiot. Luckily, he has such a massive amount of merit built up that I guess he has a little bit of credibility to spare.

HS: Having seen the commercial, I can honestly say it's quite disturbing.

SK: Is it?

HS: Oh, yeah.

SK: And he couldn't need the money either.

HS: Exactly! The story goes that back in the sixties he was asked if he would ever lend his music to any advertisements, and he said the only way he would do it is if it was selling women's underwear --

SK: Aha!

HS: And then sure enough, forty years later, there it is.

SK: Wow.

HS: So you don't know if he's being tongue-in-cheek about it, or if it's about the money. There's a CD, too.

SK: Or he wanted to fulfill his own prophecy. I think that might nicely -- I mean, the effect is ghastly, but the symmetry of it might -- that would certainly appeal to me, if I had made a prediction and I could be the only one to --

HS: Fulfill it.

SK: Right. [Pause] As you can gather, the Church -- me and the Church -- we're fiercely into this idea of what used to be called credibility [both laugh]. I hate to see people doing things like that.

HS: So what is your position on selling your song to use in a commercial, period? Is it something you're against, or do you think it's a good way to expose people to music that they might not otherwise hear?

SK: [deep breath] It's a very loaded question. There's some great things about it, and some evil things about it. [Pause] Yeah, I agree with your options. It does expose people to things they never would have heard, but also, used in the wrong commercial, can really belittle the music, and ruin your reputation a bit. So you've got to be careful. I think the VW ad would have been nice for us; I don't think I would have objected to that. [Referring to the now famous Volkswagen ad, which was originally to feature "Under the Milky Way" before its makers opted for Nick Drake's "Pink Moon."] But if someone wanted to use...I guess it depends on how broke I was, to tell you the truth, because if somebody terrible rang up and said look, here's a load of money to use "Under the Milky Way", I guess I might have to say... Um, sometimes you just have to match your principles up with your cash flow. I guess that's what happens with a lot of these guys who do the circuits, you know? They don't really want to do it, but it's the only thing they can do to earn money.

HS: Right. Back to Isidore -- I heard it was the biggest pre-order in Karmic Hit history.

SK: [laughs] I don't think -- that probably wouldn't have to be very many. [Both laugh] I mean, we're not talking platinum shipping here.

HS: Well, yeah, but it must be somewhat gratifying to hear that something you're involved in -- that there's interest.

SK: Yeah, well, you know what, I'm much happier about that than if you'd said it was the smallest pre-order in Karmic Hit history [both laugh]. That will probably be my next album [laughs].

HS: Have you gotten an overall feel of fan feedback?

SK: It's completely -- well, since the Internet? Oh, for Isidore, you mean?

HS: For Isidore, yeah.

SK: Oh, I thought you meant generally.

HS: Well, we can talk generally, too.

SK: Yeah! Well, they're both part of the same thing, because normally, in the old days, you'd release a record and you wouldn't know, except for what critics would write, your friends would tell you, neither of which you can trust. Or, occasionally, on the road, months, maybe years, later, someone would come up and go - hey, I really like... -- so a lot of the time it felt like you were firing shots into the dark. You didn't really know until you came across a dead animal one day that you hit anything [both laugh]. So, it's great now, because it really means a lot to me, who lived in those days before there was this sort of instant commentary that you get. So far Isidore -- on Hotel Womb [the unofficial Church bulletin board], which is I guess where I mainly read things, I think there's only been one kind of -- I know people don't like the gonzo minister [in "CA. Redemption Value"] so most people say they don't really like that bit and I understood that, and I wasn't too sure about that myself, actually, having that. The only one negative thing I've read other than that was someone said they thought Jeffrey Cain's guitar playing wasn't very special, or something. Other than that it's been very flattering.

HS: Yeah, feedback seems to be good from what I've read. It's sort of a mini-legend now, but can you tell us how Isidore came about in the first place, the whole story?

SK: Yeah, I had heard of Remy Zero and I had noted down in my head that they were supposed to be a good band, but I hadn't really heard them. And I think Jeffrey played with us at the House of Blues in L.A., and I think he gave me a CD, or someone gave me a CD. And I still hadn't heard them, because I hadn't heard them play that night. And I got back to my motel, and it had a CD player in it, which still doesn't happen that often these days -- like maybe one in ten has a CD player in it, and I normally travel with a miserable little system that's not very loud. I got back to my room and found the CD player, and realized the only CD I had was Jeffrey's, and a David Bowie one which I'd listened to over and over and I didn't want to hear that anymore, so I put Jeffrey's on, and was immediately floored. I was like "Holy moly!" because I'd thought "Oh, god, I'm dealing with..." -- because people give me a lot of CDs of their bands and their music and stuff, and normally it's okay, but I rarely put anything on and just fall off my chair. And immediately it was like, okay, I've got to do something with this.

HS: And that was "Transmigration", right?

SK: That was "Transmigration", and there were some other ones as well on there. It's very frustrating, he says he can't remember, but the actual CD he gave me had about five or six instrumentals on there; there were some other bits and pieces after "Transmigration", and they were really good, and he doesn't know what they are now. He can't find them, and I can't find the original CD, so it seemed to me he was already -- because "Transmigration" was a knockout, these other things were really interesting as well, and it was immediately apparent to me that I was dealing with someone who was styling music after what I liked, and what I wanted rock music to do, and the things, the sort of setting up -- the piece he wrote, and it was kind of weird for me, because I felt like it was a piece I would have written in a parallel universe, or I might write if -- given enough time -- eventually I would have written it myself. Because it sounded like I'd set up myself to set a vocal on top of, do you know what I mean?

HS: Yeah.

SK: What I always do, especially when I'm working on my own, or with the Church, we end up with these instrumental pieces which are ready to have a vocal put on top of, and that's exactly what that track, and every other track Jeffrey sent me -- they weren't instrumentals, they were pieces of music waiting to have the -- and it's like he'd written them as if he already knew what the vocal was in his own head. Because there's a vast difference between a piece of instrumental music and a piece of music that hasn't yet got the vocal put on it. And he had created, with "Transmigration", this excellent backing track. And I did a vocal on it in L.A., immediately, because I wanted him to know that I was really into this, and gave it back to him. And then when I moved back to Australia eventually, the files began to appear, and sometimes I'd get stoned in my living room and just put the CD on of all these things and listen to it a lot and sing along with it, make things up, thing like that. [Pause] Genius is a hard word, I shouldn't really lay that on Jeffrey, but I think he's extremely intelligent and clever in the way he has created this music and he's tailored it exactly for me. I think you could pick people out, [and] if Jeffrey liked them, he could tailor music for them that would sound like something they would so, and that's not to put him down at all because his music is really beautifully melodic. There's no droth and froth, it's all very symmetrical. Some of the tracks, like "Refused", when I got the backing track, it had the feeling of lots of little things ticking away against each other. I think you even mentioned that as well, didn't you, in your review, about the idea of time passing?

HS: Yeah, I did, and also in that song, sonically, you can hear tires on wet pavement -- there's these little touches in it. One of the things I was going to ask was if that was originally there, and you picked up on it subconsciously, or if it was something that was later added when he was producing and mastering it?

SK: You know, I think the way it usually would work is when he would send it to me, I'd listen to it, and I'd hear this little sound, and somewhere, subconsciously, or perhaps consciously, I'd go "That kind of gives me the idea of a wet night, or a wet morning, and you know, sitting in the street and watching this thing happen." And when I put the lyric on there, then he would maybe subconsciously, maybe consciously, move to emphasize that. I think that's the gestalt thing that happens between partners that are in sync with each other. And that's the thing for me, because with him I just felt so familiar, the moment those pieces of music arrived and I heard them. It was like remembering stuff, they were so familiar and they so made me want to put vocals on them, and they so conjured up all the pictures in front of my eyes. And I just had to sit there... In the end, I did my usual thing, and put a time limit on myself by going down to John's place and saying okay, tonight, we're going to do this song. And he'd put the file up, and start playing it, and I would immediately start writing the lyrics, after having thought about in a very vague way. And I never knew which one I was going to do, and I'd get down there and go, tonight, we're going to do this one, and I'd sort of sneak up on it, after having let it brood and percolate, [then] I would do the definitive thing. I was really lucky, and John was of great assistance as well.

HS: At what point did you interact with Jeffrey on a personal level, and when did you two decide there was an album in this?

SK: You know, up to this point, the only time I even knew what he looked like was when he came and saw a show on the After Everything Now This tour. He and his wife came backstage in San Diego, and were in the audience, and I talked to them a bit, and I was really surprised what a -- but I shouldn't have been, because we'd only done "Transmigration", and I might have done a bit on maybe "Saltwater" by then, I'm not sure -- and I hung out with them a little bit that night and he was really funny and his wife was really nice, and really friendly, and you instantly have that familiar feeling with people. We were joking about very dodgy subjects, and laughing, and going, "Oh, God!" You know? He was joking about Remy Zero, and I was joking about the Church, and we were really having a good laugh, because we're both in the same position in some ways. And [laughs] I guess see how he feels in that position, maybe the others don't. But then I never really had anything to do with him until when the album was finished. John was communicating with him, and I didn't listen to Remy Zero either because I didn't want to see how that singer was treating the music and what kind of lyrics and things...though thanks [to a fan who sent some Remy Zero songs on CD], which are the first ones I've ever heard, I really like it, and I think that [Cinjun Tate] was great. There's a few people who've said to me "Oh, Remy Zero were great, but the singer was awful --"

HS: What?!

SK: Yeah! People have said that.

HS: Wow! That just floors me.

SK: A lot of people have said that. When I mention Isidore, and they go "Ah, Remy Zero" and they always say that. Not all of them, but some of them have said that, and then other people have said stuff that he was, I don't know, sort of a difficult character. But from what I've just heard, I think the music, and the lyrics, and the singing was fucking right up there. I wasn't aware there were people out there doing stuff as good as that.

HS: Yeah, and in a lot of ways, it makes sense that you and Jeffrey would have eventually found each other, because there are so many parallels between what you're doing. I've been a Remy Zero fan longer than I've been a Church fan, actually, so it's really cool -- but was it strange for you to enter into a collaboration with somebody who considers you and your band a major influence?

SK: Seeing as he got it right; if someone had done it in the wrong way, and was getting all the wrong things, it would have been excruciating. But because I think he knew what he was doing, it worked out fine. He's very clever. I think he could do any kind of musical thing he turned his mind to.

HS: When you received music from Jeffrey -- and I know you mentioned that you would listen to it a lot, let it absorb, sing along to it, try and grasp what you wanted to do melody-wise and lyrically -- once you figured it out, was it more or less go down to the studio, cut it, and wait for the next batch to come? Or did you let a few things gestate longer?

SK: After "Saltwater", I let them all build up until I had them all except "Ghosting." And I had them all on a CD, about eight of them, and I used to play the CD all the time, and sometimes I would just enjoy it for what it was and I didn't even think about doing anything with it, and other times I'd just sit in the armchair and sing along with them all.

HS: What songs came easiest and what took a while?

SK: They all came easy. There were no hard ones at all. "Refused" was really easy -- that was a really easy one because it was such an easy, beautiful track. It's very interesting, actually, for him to take a song like that, which is so universal, and send it to fifteen different singers. That backing track could be used for a hundred different songs, because it's such a beautiful backing track.

HS: It's one of my favorites on the record. Was it weird for you to basically inhabit someone else's song? You had nothing to do with the music at all, so was it strange to go in there cold, and take it in?

SK: No, not really, because they were written with me in mind, so it was like slipping into a well-worn jacket. Or like a tailor had said I know what kind of clothes you wear, and I've made this suit for you. So, no, I was always familiar, always felt like I was in familiar waters.

HS: You were completely removed from the music, right? You never said to Jeffrey --

SK: Nothing, nothing.

HS: Nothing.

SK: Nothing at all.

HS: Did you enjoy that aspect of it? Did that allow you some freedom?

SK: Yeah, yeah! It took all the hard work out of it. It's like if someone would prepare a beautiful background for you, and then saying now just paint a little portrait on top of it, you know? [Long pause] Yeah! I'd be happy to work like that all the time! [Heather laughs] On the other hand, I'd be really happy if I met someone who was a brilliant lyricist, who said to me I want you to write me music and play all the instruments.

HS: Really?

SK: Yeah.

HS: You seem like a very "word" guy. So I guess it surprises me for you to say that.

SK: Well, I've done a few things like that [re: Hex, Fake, etc.], you know, done a few things where I played all the instruments. I'm happy to do anything, I like it all. But I was very happy with this. I feel like there's no need for me to have to bust my brains to create some beautiful stuff when he's done all the hard work.

HS: Were all the lyrics specific to Isidore? Or did any have earlier origins?

SK: No, no.

HS: That makes sense, because of the timeliness of some of the lyrics. Sometimes you do make very specific cultural or political references that are definitely current in your songs --

SK: "Shock and awe", you mean.

HS: Exactly. That line in particular I thought was --

SK: I was tricked into that! I don't read the paper, I don't listen to the news, and when I was doing this preacher thing, John said to me "Why don't you throw in 'shock and awe'?" and I naively hadn't heard that phrase before. I thought "Oh, that's a good kind of Biblical thing", and I was surprised a little later on when the phrase was so in-vogue, and everyone was running around saying it.

HS: If you had known before, would you have still used it?

SK: Nah, I probably wouldn't have used it if I'd known.

HS: Why?

SK: Because it is current. Current is good when it's current, but the moment it isn't current, it's unnecessarily pinned down; you've pinned an aspect of it down, when you could have had the whole thing up there and floating forever.

HS: It works, though. It's not going to date it, I don't think, but I was surprised when I heard it, so that explanation --

SK: You know, I think there's a bit of stuff on here that will surprise people. Some of it's a bit sweeter than they thought I'd ever been, and some of it's a bit harsher and more...fucking, saying "fucking", and talking about stuff. They probably don't want that either, but it's good to shake them up a bit, so it's not "Under the Milky Way" forever. It doesn't have to be that, it can go nasty, and can go incredibly tender -- but that's life. In one day, you can go from tenderness to savagery, and back again, and sometimes extreme savagery can be merged with tenderness when it goes full circle. But I did realize, lyrically and vocally, that people would feel I was moving a bit out of my oeuvre, or something.

HS: There is a juxtaposition of the heartbreakingly beautiful with jarring commentary -- was that more a product of the music itself, or was a portion of it a reflection on how you feel at this point in time? Or while you were recording some of the songs? Because you get downright harsh sometimes on here -- really harsh. "One For Iris Doe" in particular I was taken aback, but it was refreshing, and I liked that surprise element in it. It was unexpected from what I know of your music. It wasn't prettied-up in metaphor or anything either, it was pretty straight-forward, and very down the line, and I was wondering what kind of mindset inspired that? For me, the first thing I thought of when I heard it, was the Isidore Manifesto --

SK: Ahh...yeah.

HS: -- that statement of intent, basically. I wanted to know what your thoughts were on that.

SK: I think you have all these different sides of you that you let run amuck in songs, and I've tended to restrain a few of my extremities, and it's been very middle path for me for a long time. But, sometimes, you want to go to the extremes. The music brought it out in me. That particular track, "One For Iris Doe", is sort of an aggressive little track, that first bit [Heather murmurs agreement]; it makes you get angry, makes you want to dress somebody down. [Pause] I guess I did. I just went with what it wanted me to do, I suppose.

HS: What inspired the introduction for "CA. Redemption Value"?

SK: know, I can't really say, except I have, in America for a long time now -- since I've been coming to America, sometimes I've watch those preacher type guys and I'm just amazed by their performance, and the fact they all do the same kind of thing where they do that thing that the guy in Metallica does, and Johnny Rotten does, at the end of each word they'll go "Uh!"

HS: Yeah. [Laughs] I was going to say that, exactly --

SK: [doing a vague James Hetfield imitation] "Nothing really matters -- UH!" And they also do it when they go [slipping into televangelist mode] "Then Jehov-UH appeared-UH in the desert-UH!" [Heather laughs] It sort of gives everything this -- I don't know exactly what that does, so when I heard the beginning of ["CA. Redemption Value"], it made me...I don't know, I've also been experimenting with the idea of trying out different voices, imagining what it would be like to be a character actor. And so one I really enjoy doing is that one, that kind of [slipping into deep voice] "yeeeah" one. That one, and the other one is that sort of "Good, Lord, man! What do you mean we've only lost five thousand men today?! Why bother me with that?" That sort of retired British brigadier, you know, of the upper class? I love to put that character on as well. And they both have started to come out in this piece of music.

HS: Did you write the Isidore Manifesto?

SK: No. It's nicked, from the Surrealists, with some relevant bits stuck in.

HS: What inspired putting it up on the website?

SK: John did it! It had nothing to do with me. I was somewhere else. I think I might have been on tour in Australia, and one day, there it was. He had written it, and I thought it was hilarious. I thought, I thought people would realize -- I thought it was so aggressive, and sort of over-the-top, that people would realize it was tongue-in-cheek, and that it been adapted from somebody else's manifesto.

HS: I didn't know it was adapted. I remember reading it and thinking it was over-the-top [Steve laughs], but at the same time, I thought it was relevant, in a way, especially after hearing the album and hearing some of the songs. And that aggressiveness -- it's pretty apt. I think it's a cool touch to have up there. It's in-your-face and attention-getting, and that's the point I think. Back to "One for Iris Doe" -- is a lot of it improvised?

SK: [brief pause] Well, it's all improvised -- you mean the actual performance?

HS: The words.

SK: Well, imagine that I go in there and I've got this music, and I sit down and write some lyrics, and John would say "Okay, sing it" and I'd sing it, and sometimes I could get it on the very first go, and sometimes I sat there all night trying to play around with it, trying to figure out how to do it right. So in that sense...yeah! It was kind of made up on the spot. If you got lucky, huge chunks of it were completely like that, and some bits were modified a little bit later.

HS: I actually have the lyrics to it [ten lyric sheets, one for each song, were given away with preorders], and the way you had them written down, there were the two verses and you had actual stars breaking up the two verses, and some of it almost strikes me as in-jokes between you and Jeffrey, and I don't know if that's the case or not, but it seems to me there is a lot of sly reference coming through. That's why I wondered if it was mostly improvised, and also the fact it's called "One For Iris Doe," which is an anagram...

SK:, you know, I didn't really know Jeffrey. I used to write the lyrics and think "Jeffrey will get a kick out of this" or "I hope he's getting a kick out of this" -- that he'll find this funny -- because after having met him that one time, I knew he had a wicked sense of humor, and I hoped he would appreciate it, but I was never really sure. And I didn't know him well enough to make any jokes that would be just between him and I. But the whole record is like a joke between me and my audience. I mean, it's a joke that isn't always funny...the people who will understand the things in it will love them, but the people who don't...I don't know. [Steve laughs] It's almost like whoever's going to be listening to them, I'd say 95% of them, are wanting to like it. And I think, as you mentioned in your review, [it will] go on being an interesting listening experience, over and over and over -- hopefully, like all good records are. Because, you know, you can still listen to "I Am The Walrus" after all this time, well for me -- I'm sure you have records like this in your life -- the lyrics still provoke you, and the music, and the combination -- when it hits a certain chord, and the lyrics do a certain thing, it does that thing for you -- you know, pushes your pleasure button. It keeps you coming back.

HS: Do you labor over lyrics at all?

SK: No. Never. Sometimes, the only thing I'll labor over is a rhyme or making something fit. I will put a bit of work into that, but I would never sit there and labor over a blank piece of paper going [assuming doofus voice] "I dunno what to write." It just doesn't happen to me. It's more like I sit there and I can't keep up with the things I think, I can't write them down fast enough. If you've noticed, my writing is probably really bad on that [lyric sheet]. Often I can't understand what I wrote -- I'll come up and go, "Baby, I'll always -- uh?" [Both laugh]

HS: Were there any lyrics you scrapped completely? From any of the songs on the record?

SK: Apparently, on Hotel Womb, someone who got the lyrics to one song -- he reprinted the lyrics there and they were completely different. See, the other thing that happens is -- it's all very well writing the lyrics down while the music's playing, but it's another thing actually singing that than when you're writing them down, or singing along in your head. But when you're actually there on the cans and your vocal is coming back at you, suddenly you realize something you thought was possible isn't possible, or suddenly you're a syllable short, and you don't know why [Heather laughs], and you feel the end of the line rapidly approaching, and you realize you've got to get a syllable in somewhere. So like on [Forget Yourself's] "Song In Space", I had [singing] "You say we're all assembled from the tiny pieces of the [awkward pause] red-UH [another pause] shift -- " So I had to do one of those guy-from-Metallica "UH"s on the end to get that extra syllable in. "Pieces of a -- UH! -- red shift" or something like that. So, yeah, that happens when you write lyrics, so sometimes you have to go back modify it a bit. Or sometimes you misjudge how many [verses] you need, and you write too many, and then you have to decide -- I think that happened with some of these songs, I couldn't fit all the lyrics in.

HS: Yeah, on the lyrics I have you had one or two words crossed out, and I was curious because I was reading along and listening to the record, and you did change a lot of lyrics on ["One For Iris Doe"], too, so that was interesting to see.

SK: Well, yeah! I reckon I'd go back occasionally and change specific words. But, usually, I think the flow of it is pretty much solidified with what I started with originally. And then I'd go back and let the left brain do a bit of tidying up, going "Oh, we shouldn't really have this, this is a bit better..." But usually most of it comes from -- to tell you the truth, I don't know where. It just pretty much comes straight out, and I trust it.

HS: What about the song title changes? I think it's "One For Iris Doe" and "CA. Redemption Value" were different. ["Madder Music, Stronger Wine" and "The Saddest Road to Everywhere", respectively.]

SK: That's right.

HS: Those are the same songs, right? Those aren't two different songs listed on the website?

SK: No, no! No, they're not. No, they were called something else, and all of the titles are pretty much how Jeffrey sent them to me. "Transmigration" is the only one where he took a line out of the song and made it the title. I can't remember what the original title was. All the others are the titles as he sent them. But those two titles I was never happy with. I didn't feel they were -- they were good titles for the instrumentals, but they weren't titles for the songs we had. So we were having a bit of a joke about Iris Doe -- because Jeffrey's been calling himself Isidore for years and years, and I guess he's got all the angles on it worked out. You know, like how to write it, and all the anagrams, and all the Isidores and Saint Isidore and all the rest. He probably knows all about it. So he was going on about Iris Doe, and we thought that would be a good one for that. And then "CA. Redemption Value" -- for years, I've been marveling on bottles, when it says "redemption value." I just think it's great, because it doesn't feel like it's the right thing to say!

HS: And to have it be on a bottle. [Both laugh]

SK: 'Redemption' is just not the right word! I know you are redeeming it, but...that's my world, I'm walking around and because it says "redemption value" on a bottle, when I give it back I feel like there's a special process happening when the man gives me my five cents. [Heather laughs]

HS: I agree whole-heartedly. [Laughs] Sorry, I'm having a bizarre mental picture from that. Do you think there is a subconscious theme throughout the album?

SK: [deep breath] know what? I thought your idea of hours, time passing, clocks, things ticking away -- I thought that was a pretty good theme, and obviously, as someone approaching fifty, I guess that would be a very easy parallel to draw or a thing to see in there, and possibly will be a thing in my life now until I die. I mean, perhaps the fact that time is ticking away all the time. [Pause] There are some things but they're really hard to say what they are, and that's the other thing I kind of specialize in is subtlety, I guess; trying to say these things you can't say. I don't even know what they are. I don't even know if I am -- I guess I am being successful, because people like -- some people like it, and some people really like it, and they think it's specific to them. And that's what I want to do -- I want to write songs that complete strangers hear and then they go "God! I'm not the only person who feels like this." Because that's the gift that hooked me into the great songwriters that I love, when you hear a phrase and you just want to say it yourself, and you want to hear those words in your own mouth, and you go around saying and feeling things -- you know, stuff from other peoples' songs. [Deep breath] So my niche is this subtle kind of emotion right on the borderline between happiness and sadness, or the place where they meet up, there's this special emotion that I've always enjoyed, and obviously you, and a few other thousand people around the world enjoy this peculiar feeling. And the Church does it, I guess Remy Zero did it, I guess Radiohead sometimes do it, but not so much anymore, and a few others that I haven't heard of and a few others I can't remember right here and now -- we all do [it], and when you find it, you really like it, and it's very hard to say what it is. It'd be very hard to explain to somebody. I find it really hard when I meet strangers and they say "What do you do?" and I say "I play in a rock band." They go [derisively] "Oh" and I want to go, "no, no, no, we're not like you're thinking"; we're not about that. We're like rock n' roll doctors; we're not rock n' roll bricklayers. We're working in a coarse medium, admittedly, but we're doing a very fine thing within it, you know? Like a spider's web, rather than a fucking hole in the ground.

HS: I think there's actually a topic on Hotel Womb right now about describing the Church in one word -- it's impossible! It makes you wish there was an all-encompassing word that you could just throw at people...

SK: I wish there was, too, yeah -- and one that I could use. Look, I read those things, and I think they're great, but when I meet a doctor on an airplane and he says "What do you do?" and I say "I'm in a band -- and we're brilliant!" or we're "astonishing!" -- and usually by the time I've attempted to explain it they've lost interest. They're like [condescendingly] "Oh, yeah, right, sure..." [Both laugh] "Who cares?"

HS: One of the things about the record -- and I think I mentioned this before -- it's very cinematic. It sounds like it's recorded in widescreen. Not only musically, but lyrically and vocally as well. Did you sense that when you were listening to those tracks for the first time -- how wide open these songs can be?

SK: Yeah, they are. They are. They definitely are. They were from the beginning. I thought the first time the Church did anything cinematic was Priest=Aura, and then from that point on I've always been very inclined toward that grandiose, cinematic kind of feeling. I really love that -- I love that, and I love the fact that something is non-visual can suggest something visual. I think that's great. I like it in other people's records too, when I hear things that have that big landscape-y, wide open [feel] -- like you're seeing it up there with the two black lines: the black line on top and the black line on the bottom, edging it off. I like that feeling, I like that illusion.

HS: If somebody were to ask me what's a cinematic record, Priest=Aura would be the first record I'd say. It always surprises me [that feeling] can be sustained over an entire album, but still sound incredibly intimate like Isidore does.

SK: See, this is the magic of Jeffrey Cain, to suggest wide open spaces and intimacy both at the same time. That is the kind of contradiction that will pull you back to the record for the rest of your life. You'll be able to listen to it and go "How are they doing that? How can I feel intimate and widescreen?" And they're the kind of contradictions that if great art, or great music, or great anything, can master them, and harness them -- that's the stuff, that's the real stuff. That's what I reckon it's all about, to harness great things that are apart and pull them together, and confuse people. And you know what? The real thing is that he doesn't even know he's done it himself, and I fucking don't know either. It's just a great accident or --

HS: Or a natural, subconscious instinct.

SK: Or a natural -- yeah! It's a great thing to pull off.

HS: It's hard to describe to people how something you hear can also be visual. I can't remember the term for it, it's like syn --

SK: Synesthesia.

HS: Synesthesia, yeah. I see numbers and letters in color, or I associate colors with --

SK: Yeah, and [your husband] gets it when he has those mushrooms. [Both laugh]

HS: I've never actually associated it with hearing. It's not something that happens everyday. So it is something very special, and quite stunning, especially on this record, because of those little pockets of whispers. It's like a close-up on your vocals at points -- you can sense this intensity, concentrating on one thing within this huge scope of beautiful music. "Musidora" strikes me as a pretty straight-forward love song. Is that correct?

SK: Well, pretty much, yeah, it's as straight-forward as I'm probably going to get. I don't know, who knows? [Sighs] I just let it happen. It's like that line in that Bruce Springsteen song: "The poets around here don't write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be." And it's funny...that's how it came out. I just wanted to be that, and it's not really my forte.

HS: You're not exactly known for them. There's always that on-running joke: "Steve Kilbey hasn't written a true love song."

SK: [a bit defensively] The early days were pretty lovey-dovey, I thought. First two, three albums, there's all sorts of love songs on there --

HS: [skeptically] Straight-forward ones, though?

SK: Pretty straight-forward! "To Be In Your Eyes" is pretty straight-forward. [But it's a break-up song, Steve! --HS]

HS: [not convinced] Yeah, I guess so. But that was a long time ago.

SK: That's a long time ago, yeah.

HS: When I heard it for the first time, I couldn't help grinning. There is a sense of euphoria in it, and it's wonderful to hear it coming out in the scope of that song.

SK: Once again, the music demanded that. You've got to look at this like Jeffrey is this architect who's built this brilliant structure, and right at the end he's called in someone who's just an expert in one thing, and I've come on and put the perfect windows or something --

HS: Like an interior designer?

SK: Yeah! And everything you hear on there is like him drawing out of me. When he wrote a delirious piece of music like ["Musidora"], I had to put deliriously happy, or deliriously in-love [lyrics] on there. It wouldn't really have suited to have something bleak.

HS: Well, it doesn't even have to be something bleak. It could have been about something else, period.

SK: Yeah.

HS: But you chose this gorgeous love song. Are you going to release a single? I know you shot a video for it.

SK: There's a video for it, yeah. I'm not sure -- people down here [in Australia] are saying "Sanskrit" [as a single]; people who are working on the record. Publicists and a few other people are saying "Sanskrit" should be the song.

HS: That's my favorite song on the record, hands down.

SK: It's my favorite song on the record, too. If I had one shot -- like if someone walked in here and said "Alright, Kilbey, I've heard enough; fucking let's hear one song and make it a good one", that's the one I'd put on, just for the sheer knocking-them-over power, with like "This isn't bullshit, this record, it isn't two old rockers buggering around on their computer. This is a real record." But is it the best single? It's got a funny structure, "Musidora" [has] a much more orthodox single structure --

HS: A little more linear.

SK: Well, it goes, verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle eight-instrumental bit-chorus-out, whereas the other one goes verse-chorus-verse-chorus-long instrumental bit-then a little bit of verse at the end. That isn't your typical structure that would normally help a song be a hit, or be a single, but as we said before, it's that heavier song on the record. Also, I like the way I've sung on that record; it's like I achieved something I didn't know I wanted to achieve with that, and I can't even tell you exactly what it is, you know, I specialize in singing in a detached manner [Heather laughs]. But there was a certain detachment that sometimes Harrison or John Lennon would get and I never really got it and then with that song I felt like I achieved that feeling of "I'm not Steve Kilbey" singing that, I'm a man on the street, like you've cut open a day in the life of the twenty-first century and the man on the street is suddenly singing this song. It's got this kind of detachment, that it isn't really a person, there isn't a life behind this so much as it's just this voice, and it's in tune and it's singing everything, but there's a detachment which stops you from -- for example, when you hear "Nothing New", you put Steve Kilbey right behind that song and you know it's me, but with ["Sanskrit"] it's not me, it's something else. [Pause] I don't know, I haven't explained that very well, but...

HS: If you could see my notes right now, I actually have written down that you "almost sound like you are a different person"; that you have put yourself somewhere else. It is my favorite song on the record, and a lot of it has to do, specifically, with the vocals; particularly on the chorus, which is unlike anything I've heard you do on record --

SK: No, no. And once again, it came like a bolt from the blue. I was just listening to it and suddenly the whole thing, I just heard it there, the words and everything, and John did that great thing on top of it, which made it even more urgent. What that song does -- and I say this to a lot of journalists, and I don't know if I always get through -- but it bleeds for you. It's open, and this is something only rock n' roll can do. It has an urgency, an immediacy, and then the verses and the instrumental section are bleeding. And another example of bleeding is in "Transmigration" when Jeffrey's slide comes in, slides slowly and painfully up to that note right towards the end of the song -- it goes "RRRRRrrrrrrRRRRRR." It's like someone's just taken a razor blade and opened up your whole arm, and you're bleeding, and the music's bleeding for you, and the pain and the friction in the music... I can't think of another kind of music that can do that, or has the instruments to. That's the sort of thing electric guitars can do.

HS: When you say "written in Sanskrit again", is Sanskrit the language of life, or history?

SK: Well, once again, beautiful coincidence -- Jeffrey had called the piece of music "Sanskrit" and I was writing the verse, and John was saying "This is where you put the Sanskrit bit in." It all made this lovely sense; when you have these great accidents. Sometimes it happens in painting as well, where it all suddenly falls into place. It seemed like it wasn't, like you're in a bit of a conundrum, and then bang! It all releases. And then the song had this great sense of this is just going to go over and over and over and over again. And every time I hear that song, now I'm hearing it from a different yuga. Like we're living in the Iron Age now, but there's going to be a million of these Iron Ages, and it's all going to be the same old fucking stuff over and over. Jeffrey had given it all to me by calling the song "Sanskrit." Sometimes you feel like you look into the future, and you see what you would have done in your song, or you see the right name, and for no apparent reason, you do these things that later on you get this big pay-off from in the future. And that was one of those things. When I heard it I thought "Why the fuck did he name this piece of music 'Sanskrit'? I don't really see the connection here" and it's like he subconsciously knew that I had to use it. Because some of the songs have kept the title but I haven't used the title in the song at all. Or only necessarily bears a fragile relationship. Another's "Saltwater", because the piece was called "Saltwater" and naturally I think about the saltwater I know. As you said, it's like Bondi, and when Jeffrey came over here, he said "I never realized how Bondi this song was until I got here." But, yeah, that was a lot of the magical things that were happening with this record.

HS: I read somewhere that "Transmigration" would be the song you might have written for a Church record, or solo outing, but to me the most quintessentially Steve Kilbey song on the record is "The Memory Cloud", and I'm not entirely sure why. I don't know if it's the structure or --

SK: Something off Remindlessness.

HS: Yeah, a little bit. It's got that scope to it. The post-apocalyptic imagery, and again that feeling of vast space, but there's that seed of hope in it, in the chorus. Especially against the direness of the verses. But it's a very sensual song, in a way, I think. And I don't know if that's the arrangement, but it's sensual and frightening all at the same time. There's a subtle defiance in the chorus -- not necessarily taking a stand, but that feeling of "we will start again."

SK: Well, I don't even know if I'm all that serious. It's supposed to be a little bit Flash Gordon-y as well, because I thought Jeffrey's music was a little bit -- and I know the Church does this, too -- it sometimes teeters into a parody of cinematic, and rather than being grand, it becomes grandiose. Do you know what I mean? And rather than being glorious, it's vain glorious. I enjoy that emotion, and I enjoy that slightly fifties sci-fi feel that ["The Memory Cloud"] had. At some point, John was saying to me "This album's the most sci-fi kind of thing you've done for a long time." And for a little while, for some of the songs, I took that and ran with it. That feeling of being able to throw anything in there. It really had that Flesh Gordon -- [Steve laughs] Flash Gordon, not Flesh Gordon, feeling to it right from the beginning. This has to be about some big intergalactic happening, not about my baby leaving me. [Heather laughs]

HS: What I take away most from the record is mainly vocals. Over the course of the last few Church records, [your last solo record] Dabble, and this record, you've really come into your own as a singer. Especially, and I said this before, on "Transmigration" -- there's an incredible rawness there. How do you feel about your voice now?

SK: It's funny -- what I do, I'm trying to cover a lot of bases at once. I'm trying to be a bass player, and a lyricist, and a singer, and a songwriter, and being on tour, and being a nice bloke, and being on time, coping with my tinnitus and drug addictions, and all the rest of it. So one of the last things that ever really occurred to me to do anything about was singing. Only very, very recently it occurred to me I could do more with it. Not that I should do more with it, but that I could. I found this about myself, and it's the one compensation getting to this age -- I'm like a wardrobe that you haven't completely looked through, like that Ultravox song: "My sex is a waiting wardrobe of all the bodies I've known and all those I want to know." I can go into my wardrobe and I'm finding things that I thought didn't fit me, and I'm going, no, they do fit me. It is all right for me to try and sing, I don't have to cover everything in an ironic distance, or a deadpan, monotonic approach, which when I first started out in the pop business, I did a quick search over my strong points and found having a beautiful voice wasn't one of them, and I thought I'd go the Lou Reed-y approach and just speak it. And only in the last four or five years have I realized, and that was one of the revelations of working with John, he was going "Don't sing roughly, don't shout, don't scream, don't speak it -- sing it! Hit the note. There's a melody in there, go for it. Don't just imply it, sing it." And a lot of the time I think I've implied melodies more than I've sung them, and on this one I really sang. My voice isn't really that -- and I'm not saying this in false modesty -- it's really not that bad. It's not a great voice, but it can do more than I thought it could, and it's funny, as I'm getting older it's mellowing and it does all the things I want it to do and it does it all on its own. When I sing -- you mentioned a little break in a lyric that you liked -- it does all those kind of things and does it nicely.

HS: It makes it more genuine, too, I think.

SK: Yeah! And it's like playing bass. After a while, when you've been doing it it's like driving a car. You've got all these things in your body that work autonomously and my voice was the last one to really take off, and I'm starting to sing in tune a lot of the time, which you couldn't have said of me before. I've just become a lot more aware of it, and I'm really looking forward to getting my teeth into the next thing. There was a guy in Sydney, a dance remixer type of guy, who's had a lot of success -- I'd never fucking heard of him -- and he rang me up out of the blue and said "I want you to come and sing on this song." And I went in there and it was a torch song-y thing, and I did a real blues-y, wrenching [vocal], and then I did a really sweet [vocal], and then I did a rap.

HS: Wow!

SK: I did a completely off-the-top-of-my-head weird rap, and the guy was speechless! And I said "There you go, man!" [Laughs] And he was like "We got more than enough there." And I couldn't believe I was doing this kind of stuff. Now I've found that I can do it, so I'm looking for excuses to do it.

HS: Has that been released?

SK: No, not yet. I'm sure you'll find out about it when it comes out.

HS: Nice! It's funny you would mention that, because I've always thought you have the perfect voice for electronic music. The best electronic songs are the ones with those powerful female vocals. They're always the more interesting, because they have that bed to highlight the vocals without overwhelming them. I'm excited about that.

SK: Hi-Fi Mike, his name is. And I guess the record will be coming out pretty soon.

HS: What did you take away from the experience of making Isidore? How do you think it will affect your future work?

SK: I think it's definitely a good way to work, just sending files. You don't have to know anybody. I've been talking to, in a very, very early stage -- a mutual friend of ours introduced us over the Internet -- Sonic Boom from Spaceman 3 and Spectrum. Do you know who he is?

HS: Oh, yeah!

SK: He and I and another guy are talking about doing something together. So if it ends up being him just sending me music that he's done, or if it ends up me sending him that I've done, or however it's going to work out -- where he sends me a bit and I put a bit on top or whatever -- I'm very up for it because I think this is a really good way. I don't know, what would've happened if Jeffrey and I had gotten in the studio, and we're both clever bastards and always joking around, if we'd ended up just pissing each other off? We may never have made this record! Or I may have been too dominant because he respects what I've done so much. If he'd started to write "The Memory Cloud" and I'd gone "Oh, no, this is too fifties ironic", he may have stopped, you know? So I think it was good. I wouldn't mind in the future if it came about that we could write music together, because I don't feel like I'm working with a fan now. I feel like I'm working with a person who's more than my equal, in every way. But I think it was good that the first one was done like that.

HS: Are you going to tour Isidore?

SK: If there's an opportunity, we will.

HS: Is it just going to be you and Jeffrey, are you going to have a band? Have you thought about any of that?

SK: I reckon, at this stage, it would be me and Jeffrey, Gregory Slay [former drummer for Remy Zero] and my brother [John Kilbey], playing acoustic guitar and doing the backing vocals.

HS: One more question, about your painting. Why now?

SK: It's like the voice! It's the same thing! I'd said to myself "Oh, you can't paint." And then every time I probably ever looked at a paintbrush or someone painting, something inside of me had gone "What are you looking at that for? You can't do that. You can play bass guitar, you can write lyrics, stick to the stuff you know." And when John said "Paint the cover for Freaky Conclusions", it was interesting. It was interesting to see what I could do.

HS: So you had never painted before that point?

SK: No.

HS: Do you have any plans to publicly exhibit?

SK: Well, tell me, and you know you can be as harsh with me -- [Heather laughs] -- you can be as harsh as you like! That's one reason why I can take your praise of Isidore to heart, because I know you weren't happy with Forget Yourself -- and to tell you the truth, nor was I. And I was never angry with anyone, and I never am about people who write bad reviews, and I think it's healthy, and nobody likes fucking everything by everyone. So, tell me the truth -- I have no idea! I have people [who] make me feel like I'm Reubens or someone, and then I'll do something I think is very good and -- my brother Russell came over yesterday and I showed him five new paintings that I've done for this new Church b-sides album [Beside Yourself, a collection combining tracks released through iTunes, the Forget Yourself bonus songs released in the U.S., the b-side from the Australian "Song In Space" single, and unreleased tracks from the Forget Yourself sessions]. I've done five paintings, I've been working on them for three weeks and there they all are. And he goes "Why don't you get a new type of signature?" And that was his comment. And then I feel "Fuck! I've gone from being Reubens to Joe No One." [Both laugh]

HS: I happen to really like it. I like folk art, and that's what it reminds me of.

SK: Folk art?!

HS: Yeah, like Mexican folk art. [Kilbey makes dubious sound and says what sounds like "Who would believe?"] Yeah, oh yeah. I see it all the time [here in Tucson], and that's what it evokes to me. It's very colorful, and there seems to be a theme running through. I notice when you post batches of paintings, there's always a theme --

SK: Oh, yeah...

HS: -- running through them. Is that how you decide to work? That's where the inspiration comes?

SK: It just happens! Did you like The Birth of Venus one?

HS: Yes! Very much.

SK: See, that was an idea I almost hit upon. I was going to reinterpret all the great works, through my naive filter [Heather laughs]. But I lost interest. Once again, I look upon it as gimmicks, and the gimmick I think I have here, which is an interesting angle, is that all modesty aside, I believe I am the best lyricist in the world at the moment -- I don't believe there's anybody as good as me, or at least I'm in there in the top twenty. I don't feel I'm mucking around, having myself on, I think I'm really in there with a shot, whether it's acknowledged or not. I feel like that about myself. I don't hear any other lyrics -- I hear some fucking great lyrics from time to time, but nothing ever makes me feel like, "Ah, that's the end of you." But with painting, I'm coming into this other discipline being really good at one -- it's a bit like when Michael Jordan switches from basketball to baseball. It's along the same lines. He's really good at one but the other one works in a completely different way. I know nothing about painting, I know nothing about color. I just got a book on painting and I realize, according to this book, everything I do is wrong. But I know about art, and I know what I have is my schtick that I do in music. Why can't I pull that off in art? And that's my mission, to do the things I do in music, and try and do it in art. But because I don't know anything about it, there's a great contradiction there. Someone's accomplished at one thing, and nothing at the other, and still trying to pull off the same thing. That's what keeps me going.

HS: Does the inspiration for the music and the painting come from the same place?

SK: Oh, yeah. Whatever I could do, even if someone said "Would you help me do something in my garden?" there's this thing that I always want to achieve. Even if I've cooked food. Whatever I do, I would always be wanting to do the same thing, it's all coming from the same place. It's my thing, it's what I do. Yeah, the painting is definitely coming from the same place as the music.

HS: When I hear artists talking about their creative process, it's either one of two ways -- either it's described as something coming from a deep, inner facet of themselves, or they pull it from outside. So, with your painting and your music, which is it for you?

SK: It's both. In some weird place, inside and outside me, just like when you said ["The Memory Cloud"] was sensual and frightening at the same time, I'm looking for those edges, I'm looking for this seam where the whole fucking crazy mess joins up. And there's some place, and somewhere, in some time, someone is going to write that perfect song, they're going do that perfect painting, they're going to perform that perfect ballet, and finally people are going to go "A-ha!" For a second, people go "A-ha!" That's where it is. That's what it is, that's what I'm looking for. It's a crazy fucking thing that you can never pull off. Once you've found what you want to do, and you see that there's this -- every day I'm getting up and instead of the horizon closing in on me, it's just opening up. And I'm thinking I just want to keep doing this, I just want to keep hitting this thing, I keep wanting to surprise people; that I can still find a thousand different ways to keep stating the same thing, that can't be stated in one sentence. It takes a thousand sentences to say it.

-Heather Space

Isidore is available through Karmic Hit Records at A U.S. release is planned for Sept. 14, 2004. Steve Kilbey's paintings are also available at Karmic Hit, as well as a nice gallery of his work.

Thanks to Perry Camisso, Julia de Meyrick, Duane Handy, Greg Hatmaker, Brian Hutton, and Grant Stringer. Extra special thanks to Holly Jordan, Peter Hunter, Mario Cordova, and Mike Fulmer.

Steve Kilbey photo by Tony Mott

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 15 March 2005 )
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