John Shuler's Interview

This interview was conducted on Sunday, October 3rd 1999, the day after the Providence show. The Paradise show was later that evening, and the interview scheduled to air the following Thursday. Petrina of Boston College's WZBC and I picked up Steve and Marty at the club, and after a brief stab at some record-shopping, we head for the station.

Initially a bit sluggish and quiet, once the boys had gotten some food in them, and been shown some Boston driving, they began to perk up nicely. Passing through the obscurities-lined hallways of the station, MWP is clearly struck and impressed by the variety of music found there, and we have much interesting music-chatter, alas, before the tape was rolling.

Towards the end, SK leaves briefly, and Marty seemingly picks up the slack for both of them, launching into a very animated discussion on various aspects of music. Steve rejoins right at the end, and immediately resumes his running "post-show Review" of that night's show in Boston.

p: Good afternoon.
SK: Hi.

p: And how is the tour going?
SK: Pretty good...

p: "Pretty good"? The show in Providence was excellent! I enjoyed it very much.
SK: Boston was really good too. ;-)

p: Boston was...
SK: ...except for that strange thing that happened...
js: We'll leave that alone now.

p: Yeah, we won't talk about that, but so far as the latest release, A Box of Birds, is there any news on how that's being taken here in the States?
SK: Good reviews.
MWP: Good reviews, no radio.
SK: Yeah...

p: Well, it's getting some radio...
SK: mmmm...

p: At least here.
MWP: Yeah, we're very grateful for it, believe it or not.

SK: How much again was that? ;-)
p: How much radio?

SK: No, how much was it to get it on?
p: Oh, um, I think we settled on a few thousand $$ or something...yeah.

SK: and the other thing too..., yeah, ok...

p: So, it's a covers album, and how did you go about selecting the cover songs that you wanted to...? Was that a fun process? Was it a...
SK: Um, well we had a few in mind that we'd done a long time ago, you know, earlier in our career, and we went to Marty's house who has a lot of records, and sort of a few ones got selected off records that we hadn't even originally intended.

p: I heard there was an interesting process as far as the artwork on the... A Box of Birds...
SK: People submitted their artwork from the net, on the net, on one of our, sort of "pages"...

p: Is there a URL that's easy to spit out for as far as a Church website?
MWP: Can't remember what it is.

p: Can't remember it, yeah, that's why I asked if there's an easy one, cuz I know...
MWP: Well there's an easy one, but I still can't remember it....

SK: It's "Tristesse.com" isn't it?
MWP: Yeah, but...

SK: Just look up "Shadow Cabinet" on the Explore and you'll find it...

p: Alright. "Shadow Cabinet", that's the name of the...
SK: That's the Australian one.
MWP: And there's the sort of a one where people talk about...themselves...and.....the Church.

SK: It's called 'Sťance' in America. I think that's "eterna.com", is that "eterna.com"?
js: It's now "sťance@listserv.no-fi.com"

MWP: If I was gonna look at the Sťance list I'd probably rather be watching The Young and the Restless.

p: Is it like a soap opera? A lot of those lists can be like that. I'm only on one, but...they're funny.
MWP: Not if you don't look at them, they're not!

p: No I suppose, but they're there to support you, they're there....they like your music.
MWP: Yeah sure - the guy who killed John Lennon liked his music too!
js: Ouch. ;-)

p: Well, how long is the tour? Is it long and harrowing, is it....
SK: No, it's only a month, I think.

p: Only a month, and that's just in America? Any other countries being covered?
SK: No.

p: Go ahead...... any touring in Australia?
MWP: We thought we'd test it out on America, and then go to our important markets.

p: Oh, ok...Like where?
SK: Lichtenstein.....Morocco... ;-)
MWP: Luxembourg... ;-)

p: You're huge there?
MWP: Andorra...

SK: HUGE in Luxembourg.

p: Selling millions of records.

js: It just went "Aluminum"...

SK: Yeah! It just went "Aluminum" in Sarajevo...

MWP: "D suspended 4th" is a national symbol in Lithuania.

js: We just had friends fly in from Montreal and Toronto yesterday that met up with us to see you, and ...just curious, is it true there are no Canadian dates this time around because the arrangements couldn't be worked out to tour with The Barenaked Ladies? ;-)

SK: "Arr arr arr..." (groans n grins)

MWP: That's his department.
js: Steve's department?

MWP: Yeah.
SK: (very slight giggle)
p: "Ba-dum ching!" I guess, is that?

p: But, so you don't have a touring band with you this time around?
SK: Another band with us?

p: Yeah.
SK: No.

p: So it's just like, in each city....different?
SK: Yeah.

p: Different bands...
SK: Yeah, whoever sort of bribes us the most can play with us.

p: Do you get to choose them?
SK: No.
MWP: No.

p: Depending on the amount of money they give you...
SK: Yeah. Or, you-know-who's brother-in-law is married to the sister's mate who plays the bongos in the group who knows the promoter - they'll probably get it.

p: It's all in who you know in the music industry isn't it, all over the world, not just in the US?
MWP: Exactly.

p: It's the same in Australia?
SK: Yeah. I guess so, on a smaller scale.

js: Do you intend to do a live album sometime?
MWP: Not really. No.

js: Has the "touring, and then going into the studio and touring", that thing....I think it's really helped the last album, Hologram (of Baal), was great, and you can really see it on A Box of Birds. I understand you've started on the next one, on the next studio album?
SK: Mmmm-hmmm.

js: Do you see the same sort of things happening, as a benefit of sort of going into the studio around touring?
SK: Well, we hope so, you know, you can never tell, really, what's going to happen with the Church. So this one's half finished and we're not going to start doing any more really until this March in Australia. So you never know.

js: So the Memphis thing is...
SK: No, Memphis couldn't happen, cos of my babies coming, so it was too close. So I wouldn't have been able to concentrate on that.

js: And would you like to tell us a bit about that?
SK: I'm having some more twins, but that's about it.

js: Just "some more"...
SK: Yeah.

js: Congrats.
p: Another couple of twins. Yes, congratulations. It's all girls, you were...
SK: All girls, yeah.
p: ...telling me.
SK: Yeah.

p: All the current four members have girls, is that? For the current line-up, is that?
SK: Uh, well the three of us who are the original members, we've all got girls, yeah.

p: OK.

SK: No boys.
p: Right.

SK: But Tim had some boys when he was out of the Church, but um....
p: But not while he was in The Church.
MWP: Not when he was in The Church.

p: It's not allowed.
MWP: Yeah. He'll definitely have girls if he does it again.

js: What of your music do your girls like?
SK: My girls like...um, they sort of like the Backstreet Boys idea, but they'd like to sort of find more obscure kind of versions in that, you know like, that's the sort of thing they like.
js: Ahh...

SK: But they're eight, you know.

MWP: Yeah, my daughter loves the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears.

js: And how old is she?
MWP: She's ten.

p: And do you encourage that?
MWP: Of course. Everything I can find on The Backstreet Boys I always send to her.

p: Really?
MWP: 'Course, yeah!
p: That's great.

MWP: What am I gonna do, send her Kevin Ayers records?
p: Right, right - "convince" her. "No no no...this is cooler, really"...
SK: "You should be getting into Hawkwind".

MWP: Yeah, you've got to encourage that really.

p: Yeah, definitely! Do you think they'll be musicians, do they have any...
MWP: Dunno. No idea.

p: ...any inclination... any sign...?

MWP: My daughter plays piano. She goes to piano lessons and she's getting pretty good at it, actually she's quite impressive. Watching her little ten year old fingers dance up and down the keyboard there. She's, you know, it's good, because we can have a bit of a jam together, you know?
p: Right.

SK: We're hoping she can teach someone in The Church to play keyboards when she learns. ;-)

MWP: Yeah. (slight giggle) But she's got it and she loves it as well, which is great. She actually really enjoys it. It's not like she's being talked into it.
p: Right.

MWP: She really wants to do it, so... yeah...
p: Great.
js: That's an awesome influence.
SK: The Backstreet Boys? ;-)

(slight giggles)

js: No, being raised with talented musical parents, and ah, I believe being put in a musical environment is really encouraged. It's a wonderful thing.
SK: Yeah. Well my kid's like, I took my daughter to a show in Spain that I was playing and I said "Are you gonna watch me?" and she said "Oh, I've seen you with a guitar a hundred times."

js: Spoiled.

SK: No, I guess you're not impressed with your parents, whoever they are, are you? Really?
p: Right.
js: And their music. (laughs)

SK: Yeah, I'm not allowed to play, I got Box of Birds and I had my kids for a month, and I couldn't play it until they weren't there. If they came in, it was always walk over and take it off.

p: Really? They didn't wanna hear it, huh?
SK: No.

p: Interesting.
js: Each generation is required to hate its parents' music.

SK: I wouldn't say they hate it, they just like, don't care.

MWP: They don't have that much emotion.
SK: (laughs)
p: Yeah, they don't.

MWP: It's wallpaper to them. Well, there isn't....I'll probably be able to say that what The Church do is wallpaper to a lot of teenagers in this country.
js: In a bad way. Completely bad way. Meaning, "suitable background"...

MWP: (nods) It just doesn't, it just doesn't matter to them at all, you know? I mean, younger people do come and see us play, and like us. We do get quite a cross-section of an audience, actually, which is surprising for us. Well, we think it's very surprising when we see somebody who's kind of under 25 at our shows. But I suppose the kind of music that we play kind of does appeal to all different age groups, but as far as capturing the age group that buys records and such.... It's not very easy to do when you've got the Insane Clown Posse to compete against.
js: Right.

MWP: So we don't compete. The way to get in 'the race' is not to compete, you know? Which is what we have to do.

p: No, but as far as getting in 'the race'...

MWP: We're not in the race. We're not actually even in the race. You know?

p: Well that's what I was gonna mention. Tim, your drummer, mentioned to me about trying to really lead the race by jumping on the internet, some big MP3 project you have planned for next year?
MWP: Well, "lead the race" is sort of... he's very enthusiastic about the internet. The internet's been very very good for us. It's really helped us to continue to do what we do. It really has.

p: Yeah. And it's going to, more...

MWP: As soon as you start talking to The Church about "The Race" or competition or success or massive sales, then we actually lose interest. We're just not about that. It's about what we do, and who likes it, and somehow it seems that between, you know, three and eight hundred people in each reasonably major city in the world likes us.

p: And the internet brings it all together...
MWP: Yeah the internet sort of brings it all together. But that's enough, isn't it?
p: Yeah, definitely.

MWP: I mean. that's enough.
p: Definitely, definitely, it's great.

js: I can vouch for the quality, if not the quantity, because the music and words inspire so much....you know, passion, and really...

MWP: Well, it's like, poetry books don't sell very well but Tom Clancy's number one on the best seller list. So what's that tell you, you know?
p: Right.

MWP: It's like, quality caused it, you know....and everybody does things which, you know, peer group pressure, and, people believe advertising....there's not many people who actually go out there and search for things.

SK: In other words, it's the "Year of the Least Common Denominator".
MWP: Yeah.
js: Indeed.

MWP: But every year is the "year for the...", as you get a year older, right?

SK: The niche gets larger.

MWP: Yeah, the niche gets...

SK: My Aunt Lou didn't like David Bowie...
MWP: Yeah.

SK: Where's that at? Just cuz she was 70 at the time. ;-)

MWP: Why didn't my Mum and Dad like Deep Purple? :-)
js: Did they?

MWP: No, they didn't. Because they couldn't understand the words. Because they listened to Frank Sinatra, and all you could hear was the words. You know?

SK: I don't think they would have liked it if they did...

MWP: (laughter) That's right... Well I tried to explain that to them - that the words don't make it better.

(laughter)

js: They didn't like it because they couldn't hear the words, and they would have liked it even less WITH the words.
MWP: Yeah...

js: Do you plan to release, or uh do a song for internet release? sort of a ...
MWP: I dunno, I suppose so... If Tim's got anything to do with it.

p: Cos Tim is like the "internet pusher", gotta get it there...

MWP: Tim's always got a vision of the future and how we can make that happen. I mean, you know, well you know, we... I mean, I don't mean to sound not enthusiastic about it, but we actually are underneath it all.... You know...

SK: (fake yawn)

MWP: It's just that some members of the band don't want to put the work in, no names mentioned...
p: Right...

SK: Those rat bags.... ;-)

p: So, you said last time you were in town you got to guest DJ at a station, is that?
MWP: Yeah.

p: And what kind of stuff did you choose?
MWP: Well you know we were just playing sort of stuff like, like I was telling you before, Jeff Buckley, and This Mortal Coil, and all that kind of ...

p: And did they play it? They played what you said?
MWP: Yeah, they let us play whatever - XTC, and, I dunno, Marc Bolan...the T.Rex stuff.

p: And was that fun.
MWP: Yeah, it was fun because, (people) phoned up and complained about the maudlin music that we were playing! You know, it's funny isn't it, one man's maudlin is another man's inspiration.
p: Oh yeah.

MWP: So, you know this - somebody's sitting around with a lollipop, driving a Ford around, going (in a fake American accent) "Ooh, play something that I can sing along to." You know?
p: Right.

js: Somebody, and then a lot of others...

MWP: You know - there are like 60 stations that they can tune in to, but they are complaining about the ONE that's playing something interesting.
p: Right.

MWP: You know, that's ridiculous.
p: Well, that's why we're here. College radio - that's what we're all about.

MWP: You can just listen to that, I mean can you imagine phoning up and complaining?
p: No.

MWP: I mean, you know what the (radio) dial's like in America.
p: Right, I do. Believe me I do.

MWP: It's just like, ridiculous.
p: Yup.

js: We are here for that, though. And the internet, I think, really already is being a bit of help, and it will only get better. I mean, I've just now been in touch with people, and sort of transferred some passionate appreciation, and converted some people. And the internet is the great equalizer. It's gonna help.

MWP: Well, I believe that, and I know that there is a load of, you know, I hate to say this, but "us who know about all this stuff", and can get this little circle of things going around, but it doesn't really make a dent, I don't believe. Not yet anyway.

SK: A drop in the ocean.

MWP: Yeah, it really is a drop in the ocean.

SK: A needle in a haystack.

p: You gotta start somewhere.

MWP: Yeah, sure.

p: "We're gonna take over the world".

MWP: But you know, you can't just, uh, imagine that... Just because YOU know that This Mortal Coil are better, and I use the term very loosely, than the Insane Clown Posse, that that actually means anything to anybody but you and a few friends. Cos it doesn't mean anything to most people, it just doesn't. And it never will.

p: Right, but just because it doesn't mean it to the most doesn't mean it's not just as important. It's just as important...

MWP: Yeah I know, but we're talking about getting...spreading it around, aren't we, you know? And what I think is that you can only spread it to a certain distance. It's a small cup of water, you know what I mean? It only spills a certain distance.
And that, you know, the media and the mainstream is a massive ocean which just kind of like.....and people don't take music as seriously as we do, you know? We live and breathe music, and buy records all the time, and listen to weird things, and spin vinyl like crazy, like it never wasn't there... you know what I mean?
There's not many people like that.
I mean, how many people just say "I don't play vinyl", for example? How many people say "Well, I buy records. Of course I buy records. I buy 3 CDs a year."?

p: Well that's funny that you mention that, because most of the people I know do buy vinyl.
MWP: Yeah, right.

p: Which is very good, and ...I'm happy about it.
MWP: But how many people do you know in Boston or in America or in the world who do?

SK: You have an exceedingly hip circle of friends.
MWP: Yeah.
p: Of course. My friends are exceedingly hip. ;-)

MWP: They'll play This Mortal Coil...

p: I wouldn't be here...

MWP: ...Nick Cave, Lowlife, Red House Painters, Slowdive, Elliott Smith...

SK: "The Barreling Canteloupes"... ;-)

(SK takes a bit of a break here....)

MWP: "The Barreling Canteloupes", you know?

js: But everyone's ..... you have someone like Elliott Smith, who has been living in obscurity, and then all of a sudden he's got an Oscar-nominated song and he's huge! And (now) everyone knows him, and...

MWP: Fluke!

js: ..and everyone who appreciates that, who has been made aware...

MWP: It's a fluke.

JS: ...has been made aware of you....

MWP: (hesitantly) Yeah.

js: It really grows.

MWP: I mean, things...it doesn't matter if it doesn't grow. That's what I'm saying. It doesn't matter. We've stopped expecting it to grow. What matters is that we do what we want to do, and what we like, and the people who do come and see us like us as well.
As long as that circle, that 'clique', if you want to call it that, although I don't like to use the word particularly, but as long as that clique is entertained, and it includes us and them, then that is the point. It's like when we were watching this stupid VH-1 "Where Are They Now?" thing... it had Winger on there. And it was saying that they had to split the band up because the last record "only" sold 300,000 copies ...

js: A "bad week"...

MWP: You know?!! Can you imagine?! That's.....why IS that?
I mean, if you analyze that statement, it's because, you know, it's not enough to make the music, it's about the music being successful. And if a record has sold ten million copies, then 300,000 is a failure. But what about the music, you know? What about the quality of the songs, and the words, and the sound, and the thing that they're trying to do? "Irrelevant."
So, there's this thing about "the race", and how can we compete...in a race where those are the rules, you know? So we don't. We're really lucky because we can maintain this kind of position. You know - small as it may be. It's like a little cottage industry. It makes little hand-painted plates ..

p: Like a "Mom and Pop", yup..

MWP: And that's fine, that's fair enough. Because when we're in America...we get to come here, we get to make records, people come and see us, who like it, and we make a little bit of a profit, and that's fair enough. We don't need to be up there with, you know, the "galas". You know? We can stuff the "galas"....who wants them anyway?

js: I don't want them anyway. Like you said, most everybody else is buying that ridiculous "lowest common denominator" stuff.

MWP: I mean, I don't want to see music on TV. Do you know what I mean? I don't want to see music on TV. I don't like music on TV. I like music in my front room, on a stereo, or at a show.
js: Right.

MWP: I don't like it on television - I'm not interested. I never listen to the radio. I mean, people are lucky around here because they've got a cool little groovy college radio station.
p: Very lucky, yup.

MWP: But the last thing I do when I'm at home in London is listen to the radio. If I want to listen to music, the last place I look for it is on the radio and on the television! It's the last place.
js: Mmm-hmm.

p: You look in your collection.

MWP: I look in my collection, and in a load of weird shops.
p: Yup.

MWP: You know!

p: Well, we just did that, didn't we? We had, like, a rummage sale, climbing around on our knees in the discount bin. I love when I find, like, a gorgeous CD for one dollar!
MWP: Yeah.

p: And, searching for it! We did that recently.
MWP: That's right.

p: I feel like I won a prize.
MWP: Yeah.

p: "Yay!".
MWP: I know!

p: That's great.
MWP: Yeah, it's a good feeling isn't it?
p: Yeah.

MWP: But I always feel guilty buying it, because I think someone else probably deserves it, because sometimes I see a record which is really brilliant and just really cheap, that nobody's noticed, and I'll buy it anyway, even though I've already got it.
p: That's what I do! And then I give it away on the radio.

MWP: I give it away to a friend.

p: I give it away on the radio - that's what I do. I did that with The Autumns CD, a band from San Francisco... I found like 5 copies. and they were a dollar each! And I just bought them and gave them away on the radio. Makes you wanna share it. Cos you love it so much and you want other people to like it.
So it's good to know that you guys are as passionate. That's really good to know, I'm glad to have you down. Down to the little show called Flyweight. I suppose I should let you go. You gotta get on the road. You need to do what you gotta do. But I wanna give you the chance to, if there's anything you left out, or you want to mention, about the tour, or the album, or anything at all, like that?

MWP: No.

(SK has just rejoined, with a grin)

SK: I'd like to mention that I'm a rather nice fellow. ;-)

(laughter)

p: We knew that.

SK: Just thought I'd mention it.

p: We heard the contrary, but we stuffed 'em. We let them know they were wrong. But thank you so much for coming down. Like I said, I really enjoyed the show in Providence and...

SK: What about Boston? ;-)

p: The Boston show was the best. Tremendous.

MWP: Yeah, it was happening, wasn't it?

SK: It's a shame about that blonde girl with the camera, that was going (SK furiously snaps away with imaginary digital camera)..... and got crushed by the crowd... she looked vaguely familiar...

js: Hmmm.

p: "She and her blonde hair", yeah.

MWP: But at least she taped the radio show before she got crushed.

SK: The shape of things to come.

Happily, that night's amazing show turned out mishap-free, and though there was much crowd motion, Petrina didn't get crushed, and continued to take even more pictures. Many of these can be seen at www.angelfire.com/fl3/church/index.html
Many thanks to Petrina for her patience, dedication, and her painstaking transscription of this interview. Thanks to WZBC, and of course Steve and Marty for taking the time.


THANK YOU JOHN! WHAT A GREAT INTERVIEW!!!


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