Steve Kilbey and Box of Birds

by Christina Fuoco at

It's 10:30am California time and The Church's lead singer/bassist Steve Kilbey is wide awake. He's been up for hours but, please, don't think he's an early riser. He's "hoping to stop this bad habit." He and the rest of The Church were in Los Angeles rehearsing for their upcoming tour, partially in support of "Box of Birds," a covers album the band released this summer.

Kilbey, who lives in Sweden to be close to his twin daughters, had a lot to say about the record, his deep hatred of the Barenaked Ladies, and why The Church will never again perform "Unguarded Moment."

Q: You must be excited about going back out on tour, considering the success of the tour last year.

A: Yeah. This one will be interesting though because last time we hadn't played for a long time. So maybe a lot of people were coming for curiosity. It'll be interesting to see how we do on this tour.

Q: Tell me a little about your new record, "Box of Birds." It's a covers record. When did you have time to record it with all the touring you've done in the last year?

A: Um, we recorded it in Sweden again because we got a good rate at a studio there. I think it was about May, June, July. We also started working on our next real album which we didn't get finished. Originally someone wrote to us a long time ago and said, "Could you do two cover versions" or something. They wanted to put it on a fanzine single and that idea grew into an album of cover versions. I guess sooner or later every hack rock star has to go out and do that - their album of cover versions.

Q: How did you decide which covers you were going to do?

A: Just like the Church always does - completely erratically. All the ones we really wanted to do we never got done. We got side tracked. One day we had a day around Marty's (Willson-Piper, guitarist) house who has the hugest record collection of anyone I've ever met. Suddenly, people were just pulling out records, "Why don't we do this?" "Why don't we do this?" Suddenly we were doing all these ones we never planned to do and never got around to the ones that we were really going to do.

Q: What were some of the songs that you planned on doing?

A: I don't want to say now. (Laughs)

Q: On "Box of Birds," you cover "It's All Too Much," a George Harrison song off "The Yellow Submarine" album. Was it intimidating doing a cover of a Beatles song, considering the competition?

A: Nah. I don't care about all that stuff. That's the only reason we did it - it only has one chord. Why bother to learn one with lots of chords when we can do George's song that's all in (the key of) G? We haven't done it for a long time but we used to do it back in 1986, sometimes for an encore. George has always been my favorite.

Q: Why is that?

A: Um, it's funny. I had this old Scottish aunt. When I was about 10 we were watching the Beatles and she said, (copping a Scottish accent) "Who's your favorite Beatle?" And I said, "Paul." And she said, "Sissy." I was about to say John and I could tell she was looking at me, and I said, "George?" And she said, "Good boy." After that I was always afraid to like anyone else.

Q: One thing that I really like in "It's All Too Much" is the Eddy Grant "Electric Avenue" interlude in the middle.

A: You like that? That's another song that's all in G. That's why I did that. Some people had (problems) with us doing that. They thought it was stupid. Some people don't like The Church to be funny. If ever we do anything funny, people don't like it. I guess you're going to (the show) for something serious, and we sort of painted ourselves into a bit of a corner. A review in an L.A. thing used a word I hadn't read for a long time in awhile, "mope rock." What a stupid term that is. You don't want your mope rockers making you laugh, do you? You're damned either way. If you're funny, half of them like it and they do have a sense of humor, and the other half don't. You know what I mean?

Q: It's like the Barenaked Ladies' popularity. Either you love 'em or you hate 'em.

A: I actually do hate them and I would cheerfully machine-gun them to death. I don't like them funny, serious or otherwise. The only time I would like to see them is in an airline disaster. The first time I saw that video, I thought, "Who is that? It's some group that is really f------ band." Every time I said that to someone, they were like "God, you hate them too?" I'd like to give them the bubonic plague. I haven't ever met one person who likes them. Now you're going to tell me that you're engaged to the conga player or something.

Q: Oh, no I'm not. You must really hate them.

A: I do, but I hate lots of people. I hate Rachel Hunter. I hate Elle MacPherson.

Q: I'm surprised about that.

A: I don't know. They're sort of Australian models who speak with American accents. I don't know. Strange people get my goat.

Q: Back to the album, it's pretty timely that you covered "It's All Too Much," considering the 30th anniversary of the "Yellow Submarine" album.

A: Yeah, a lot of people say that. That was a complete coincidence.

Q: In the liner notes, you thank "everybody who responded to the band's invitation to submit their cover art for this CD." Did you have a cover art contest?

A: We just, The Church being what it is, no one can ever decide on anything. What we did was we got a few really great internet sites. There's one called Seance, which is kind of a mailing list one. Then there's one in Australia called Shadow Cabinet which somebody outside the band runs. He's got lots of information, reviews and anything he can get his hands on. Those two sites pulled their resources for people to start sending in ideas for covers. We got like hundreds of them. I think everyone in the band picked their two favorite ones to put on there, which was the most democratic way we could pick the cover. (Runners-up are inside the fold-out CD booklet.) And you don't have to have the cover that's actually turned out to be the cover. You can change it around and pick anyone you like. I actually like one of the other ones better than the one that actually became the cover.

Q: Which one is that?

A: I like the gray, sort of eagle carved into the stone. That would have been a good cover.

Q: This album is rooted more in electronics, unlike previous albums. This is the route that you're going on with the next record?

A: No. That was more dictated by the songs, I think. I'm not sure what our next album is because it's only half finished. But there were a lot of drum machines on "Hologram" (of Baal) sort of electronic noises. We're not really moving into synthesizers and things. I can definitely say that. We always had a lot of noises and things like that. I guess that's going to be on the next record. I don't know about drum machines.

Q: When do you expect that next record to be out?

A: Well, we have to finish it now. See, we made the classic mistake of biting off more than we can chew by trying to record two albums at once. I thought it would only take a week to record "Box of Birds." We had six weeks, and suddenly it took four weeks to record "Box of Birds" and then we only had two weeks left to finish our real album. So, we're sort of halfway down the road, now we have half the songs down. We have to write the other half. We're going to do some recording in Memphis when we go there and try and do some more songs. I have no idea how that's going to work out. And then I think it's going to come out next July.

Q: So, what can we expect from your live shows? Are you ever going to play "Unguarded Moment" live?

A: No. I hate it. I could cheerfully … It's hard to do things to a song except destroy them but then you're playing them to destroy them. We hated that song the day it came out. It's so long ago. It's such an old horrible song. You definitely won't hear it. I was very angry to see that Arista put out that horrible record (compilation album) and put that out there.

Q: You didn't have final say?

A: We didn't have any say. We didn't even know about it 'til someone wrote to me and told me that track was out in America. They're taking these horrible tracks and putting them on new albums.

Q: Is the show going to consist mainly of songs from "Box of Birds," or older material?

A: We're hoping to do a couple things off the new one. We've got a philosophical problem doing things off "Box of Birds." They are "covers," after all. Covers is a funny word. There's all these groups doing covers. So suddenly, we're thinking, "We're not a cover band." So we're maybe going to do three or four off of that; three or four off of "Hologram." In fact there's not going to be as much old stuff this time around.


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