After nearly 20 years, 15 albums and numerous tours around the world; The Church show no signs of slowing up. On the eve of the release of their new album of other people's songs: 'Box of Birds' and another tour of the USA, the current line-up (Tim Powles, Peter Koppes, Marty Willson-Piper, Steve Kilbey) is preparing for the next phase of a fascinating journey.
The Church began life in 1980 as a three - piece consisting of drummer Nick Ward, guitarist Peter Koppes and singer, bass player and principal song-writer Steve Kilbey. The early days were inauspicious with a handful of low key shows in their adopted hometown of Sydney. Shortly aftwards, the embryonic Church were joined by Marty Willson-Piper (from England) on guitar and recorded a 4 track demo tape which landed them a publishing deal with ATV/Northern Songs and, in turn, a record deal with EMI Australia.
The band recorded their first album OF SKINS AND HEART and the finished tapes were mixed by esteemed producer Bob Clearmountain. The album was preceded by the single 'She Never Said' which went unnoticed but their next single 'The Unguarded Moment' reached the Top 20 of the Australian single chart and gained the band national exposure. This single, released in March 1981, was praised at the time for it's fresh approach, jangly guitar motifs and surreal lyrics.
Prior to the album's release, drummer Nick Ward was replaced by teenage drummer Richard Ploog. Ploog possessed a strong, yet graceful, playing style and was more in touch with The Church spirit. This next line-up was to remain intact for eight years.
The band's next album THE BLURRED CRUSADE (produced by Bob Clearmountain) came out in March 1982 and was critically acclaimed as a classic; defining the new guitar sound and possessing a polish and balance not even hinted at on the debut. Bob Clearmountain's immaculate production values enhanced the dynamics and subtleties of the band's music and highlighted, in particular,the diamond hard yet elegant interaction of the guitars. The Blurred Crusade established the band as a potential major force and, with overseas interest increasing, The Church made its first journey to Britain and Europe.
After a successful overseas tour, The Church returned to Australia to release a 5 track 12 inch EP, 'Sing Songs'. They followed this with their third album 'Seance' released in May 1983. The album featured the stark image of an ashen-faced woman on the cover which reflected the sombre and otherwordly feel of the set. In retrospect 'Seance' is one of the band's most uncharacteristic yet challenging works. It contained several excellent songs in 'Fly', 'It's No Reason', 'Electic Lash' and 'Now I Wonder Why', containing the dreamy melody and ethereal guitar lines which became a Church trademark.
'Seance' was released in Europe (Carrere) and charted well on the British alternative listings. Back home in Australia, the crusade was slowing down somewhat with the album not doing as well as the first two.
1984 was a relatively quiet year for The Church. They toured irregularly but released two 5-track mini albums, 'Remote Luxury' and 'Persia'. The band landed a major US deal with Warner Brothers and the 2 mini albums were issued as one album overseas called REMOTE LUXURY. This was also their first release in the USA since their debut in 1982 and they played their first US tour to ecstatic crowds and rave reviews.
1985 was a period of re-evaluation and rest. The second half of the year was spent writing and recording new material. The difference this time was that the whole process was a group effort, rather than Kilbey doing most of the writing and the band recording his songs. The fruits of this new approach yielded HEYDAY in 1986. Expectations were high and the album did not disappoint. It proved to be a remarkable achievement and instantly won well deserved critical favour. All the loose pieces had been drawn together with considerable clarity, and producer Peter Walsh was an important catalyst in extracting the best from the band.
The album's haunting, fragrant nature gave it immediate appeal, with new subtleties revealing themselves with each listen. Taken as a whole, the album possessed a consistency and depth that easily made it the best Church album to date. It contains some of the band's most elegant and seductive songs in 'Myrrh', 'Tristesse', 'Columbus', 'Disenchanted' and the hard hitting 'Tantalised'.
In 1987 EMI Australia released a double compilation of Church b-sides and album tracks entitled HINDSIGHT. With track selection and sleeve notes by Kilbey, this was a fitting tribute and a must for any Church completist.
Despite Heyday's excellence, it did not sell enough for EMI or Warner Bros (despite making the lower reaches of the US Billboard charts) and the band found themselves without a deal. Undeterred and still riding the buzz from 'Heyday', they eventually secured a world-wide deal with Arista Records and with Mushroom Records for Australia.
The next effort, STARFISH, was the breakthrough album. The band spent three months in Los Angeles studios with seasoned session musos Waddy Wachtel and Greg Ladanyi at the controls. The album went gold in the US and did well in most other countries making it easily their best-seller to date. 'Starfish' was notable for its plain cover (just four black and white photos on a white sleeve). This stripped-back approach was true of the music too. Mostly recorded fairly live, the twin guitars and Kilbey's voice shone through. The songs were really strong and tightly focused and many are still played live: 'Destination', 'North South East West', 'Hotel Womb', 'Reptile' and the sublime 'Under the Milky Way' which was a US top 20 hit and helped bring the album to the attention of a wider audience. The Church spent a hectic year touring the world and playing to sell out audiences.
Former label Carrere released a compilation CONCEPTION in 1988 to cash in on the band's success. This was a collection of tracks from The Church's first two albums and one from their Sing-Songs EP.
Things with the next album didn't quite work out as well as was planned. GOLD AFTERNOON FIX released in 1990 was again recorded with Waddy Wachtel in Los Angeles but the fruits of the partnership which bore 'Starfish' had turned a little sour. Internal band tensions during recording led to drummer Richard Ploog's departure. Generally, the production wasn't as solid as on 'Starfish' and the use of a drum machine on some tracks didn't help. The material had some really strong moments ('Pharaoh', 'Grind') and one can only imagine what the album would have been like if the band's choice of Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones as producer had eventuated.
The band toured the album throughout the world during 1990 with Patti Smith's drummer Jay Dee Daugherty filling the vacancy.
A worthy collection of rarities and out-takes from the period 1986-1990 was released in Australia in 1991 entitled 'A QUICK SMOKE AT SPOTS'.
In 1992 they re-emerged with arguably their finest work, the obliquely titled 'PRIEST=AURA'. Recorded at their second home, 301 Studios in Sydney, Australia, the band were back on familiar musical ground. Rife with ringing feedback and shimmering guitars, the album is rich in texture. An elegant wide-screen full of majestic swoops and sighs, coupled with not-so-quiet storms which added a glint of savagery, bringing moments of drama and beauty to the stately songs. Some credit must go to producer Gavin MacKillop who was responsible for the great sound on the album. Those who had worried that the band's dreamy vision had disappeared after 'GOLD AFTERNOON FIX' were totally reassured by songs such as 'Aura', 'Mistress', 'Old Flame' and 'Ripple'. A Church classic in every sense.
Arista didn't really get behind the album, despite it achieving respectable sales. Prior to the Australian tour, Peter Koppes announced that he would be quitting the band once the tour was finished.
Just when everyone thought Peter's departure would mean the demise of The Church, Steve and Marty confounded critics and fans alike by releasing 1994's SOMETIME ANYWHERE. This was indeed a labour of love. Marty and Steve spent months in Steve's Karmic Hit studio in Sydney, experimenting with sounds and rhythms. Now down to two members, they were free of the role-playing which went with the 4 piece band structure. They were free to play what they wanted, when they wanted. 'Sometime Anywhere', as the name suggests, is a free-spirited album. It contains tracks that are instantly recognisable as The Church and others that suggest a new dimension or direction to their music. 'Day of the Dead' picks up where 'Priest=Aura' left off in a hypnotic, brooding sense, but others like 'Angelica', 'Eastern' and 'Two Places at Once' take you to another place altogether. Initial copies of 'Sometime Anywhere' came from a bonus CD 'Somewhere Else' which contained a further six excellent tracks of differing moods. The Church may not do anything like 'Sometime Anywhere' again, but this "great big Persian rug of an album" (as one UK music critic put it) ranks up there with their best.
The album marked the recording debut with the band of former Venetians drummer Tim Powles. Apart from being the drummer most sympathetic to the band's music to date; Tim has emerged as a crucial band member in terms of vision and focus and has played a major role in the production and mixing duties on their recent albums.
Also in 1994 a good compilation of the most well-known tracks from The Church back catalogue was released by Raven in Australia: 'ALMOST YESTERDAY 1981-1990'.
Steve and Marty undertook acoustic tours of Europe, Australia and the USA during 1995 at the same time as Arista chose not to pick up their option on the band and they found themselves without a deal. Undeterred, they entered Steve's studio at the end of 1995 and began recording a new album. Steve and Peter had made contact again and Peter was invited down to the studio to guest on a few tracks. These were productive sessions with about 16 tracks completed. It was decided to release the album on their own label 'Deep Karma' via Mushroom Exports in Australia. 'MAGICIAN AMONG THE SPIRITS' came out in 1996 and, despite containing some strong material (the title track 'Comedown', 'Ladyboy', 'It Could Be Anyone', 'Romany Caravan') it didn't really hang together as well as their previous efforts which was due, in part, to the sequencing of the tracks. Additionally, the track 'Comedown' was released as an EP with an extra four really good tracks not to be found on the album.
The US distributor went bankrupt shortly after the album's release and ensured that it was virtually stillborn. Happily, the album has now been re-released on their new label as MAGICIAN AMONG THE SPIRITS AND SOME including the extra tracks. The album is much stronger as a result. 1997 saw The Church re-united with Peter Koppes and they undertook a short, highly successful tour of Australia. Tracking for their next album HOLOGRAM OF BAAL began at the same time. This set the mood for the songs as the band moved in and out from studio to stage - stage to studio, taking big slices of live energy and jamming them into shape and creating an aura that fulfilled itself. The resulting album combined the best of their past with a new found energy. It adventured into a sonic playground of melodic guitarscapes; Peter Koppes mastering his mood and ambience; Marty Willson-Piper's hooks inter-twining and meshing. Drummer Tim Powles brought a fresh sound and mix to The Church, shaping and driving with the rest of the band, wrapped around infectious beats and bass, splashed with radiotronics and static behind which lurked the golden tone of Steve Kilbey. The opening "Anaesthesia" rolls forward in jangly motion, the soothing hooks of the chorus leaving you numb but warm, falling right into "Ricochet" with its definitive Church drums and melodic bass that drive the cycling guitars through radiotronic windscreens and back. "Tranquility" is a Church of old wrapped in a next-century atmosphere; waves of mood lasting for seemingly ever, leaving the listener caught in a trap of contrasting power and peace. Several reviewers described it as the most beautiful Church song ever. 'Hologram' is one of the best Church albums in a long while.
With a new record deal and renewed enthusiasm , The Church are about to unleash a BOX OF BIRDS. A new slant on old songs - some classic (Television's 'Friction') some obscure (The Monkees' 'Porpoise Song') but all undeniably The Church.
The Church have remained one of rock's most innovative and enigmatic groups justifying praises from the press including "Best guitar band on earth", "Sonic perfection", "Sounds that caress the senses"
A fantastic and unique band ...listen and enjoy ...
OF SKINS AND HEART 1981 THE BLURRED CRUSADE 1982 SEANCE 1983 REMOTE LUXURY 1984 HEYDAY 1985 STARFISH 1988 GOLD AFTERNOON FIX 1990 PRIEST=AURA 1992 SOMETIME ANYWHERE 1994 MAGICIAN AMONG THE SPIRITS 1996 HOLOGRAM OF BAAL 1998 MAGICIAN AMONG THE SPIRITS AND SOME 1999COMPILATIONS
HINDSIGHT 1987 CONCEPTION 1988 A QUICK SMOKE AT SPOTS 1991 ALMOST YESTERDAY 1981-1990 1994For further info contact Trevor Boyd (NSEW fanzine):