Hold me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, Kilbey

By Brett Leigh Dicks from Togatus Magazine,

Volume 67, Issue 3, April 1996

For most people, what they were doing ten years ago is lost and forgotten. But, for some reason, when you are in a band you are constantly expected to justify all of the stupid things you said and did all those years ago," laments Steve Kilbey.

"So instead of just being able to be yourself, living here and now with all of that in the past, you find that you are living simultaneous versions of yourself. The guy you were five years ago, the kid from twenty years ago..."

For someone who seemingly slips from one musical caravan into the next with little trepidation and even less fanfare, you would expect that retracing past personae would not cause too much drama for Steve Kilbey. But whereas the multi-faceted structure of his musical career strives to deliver artistic progression, an accountability to the past can only be seen to be its antithesis.

The diversity of Steve Kilbey's career will not be any more apparent than over the first half of this year. Having just released a second Jack Frost recording with Grant McLennan, Steve has also completed a new Church album, Magician Among the Spirits, with Marty Willson-Piper. In the near future, we can also expect a solo recording and the production of another Stephen Cummings album.

With the Church album now in its final phases and scheduled for a late April release, Steve has elected to spend some time away from the studio, touring with Grant in support of the Jack Frost album. Snow Job is the second collaborative venture with the former Go-Between, and follows the pair's widely acclaimed self-titled release of 1990.

"Grant and I actually recorded this album just after Sometime Anywhere back in 1993. Since then it has bounced around from one record company to the next, always with some sort of condition attached to its release. In the end we said fuck it and just wanted to get it out," explains Steve. "This may mean that it gets lost in the shuffle - which would be a shame - but really, I am just happy that it is coming out."

While the combination of time and hindrance may have dampened Steve's enthusiasm, any degree of obscurity inflicted upon the release would indeed be a travesty. Much in the same temperament as its predecessor, Snow Job is a reflection of a unique teaming. But whereas Jack Frost's first endeavour relied heavily on programming, the mechanics of this recording is based upon a very different texture.

The album ironically opens with the song Jack Frost Blues. The track's pounding drums and percussion leads us into a lush, fertile soundscape and sets the scene for the remainder of the recording.

The beauty and strength of the work lies within its composure. Steve Kilbey's evocative imagery and Grant McLennan's focused sensibility intertwine into a complementary narrative. The resulting harmony a reflection of the album's empathy.

Similar to the approach Steve and Grant employ for Jack Frost is the redirection of Steve's other collaborative concern, The Church. Just as the relationship within Jack Frost produces an entity of equal bearing, so too it seems do the contributions Steve and Marty make to The Church.

What was initially conceived as a chariot for the song writing talents of Steve Kilbey has, over the years, evolved into a combined foray. Each successive recording furthered the four-piece's reputation and, in so doing, guided The Church to unprecedented international success.

When drummer Richard Ploog's departure was quickly followed by the exit of founding-member Peter Koppes, the band's musical order became the concern of two. Bought about in part by the personnel changes but more by evolution, the band again underwent a dynamic change within its creative structure.

"Marty's role in the band has radically changed from the way it was in the beginning. When he first came along it was a case of, 'Here kid, play rhythm guitar'. Now we are total equals," offers Steve. "If I want to do something on my own, I go and do it. But if I do something with The Church, I expect him to be completely involved."

"This new album is very much a product of two people rather than being something from one person and a sidekick. If anyone does or doesn't like this album, half the credit or half the blame falls as much on him as it does with me. And that is the way it should be."

In keeping with the approach the pair adopted for Sometime Anywhere, Magician Among the Spirits was written and recorded entirely upon entering Steve's Sydney studio. But whereas the former was very much a product of studio experimentation, their new album hints at something a little earthier.

"Maybe it's because we wrote Sometime Anywhere with drum loops and this time we were writing with a live drummer but this album is very heavy," says Steve. "I think that has really influenced the music. The album is almost purely electric guitar - which is what The Church should be."

"In fact, this is probably our most electric album ever - very little acoustics, very little keyboard and no drum machine. People who have already heard it are referring to it as 'The Church's grunge album'!"

The album also heralds the return of guitarist Peter Koppes who departed The Church just after the release of their 1992 album Priest=Aura. While his presence may not be the full and committed return some fans had hoped for, his input into the album is more than a guest appearance.

"A lot of people are going to hear this news and say, 'Great, Pete has come back to play', but his contribution is very different," hints Steve. "He plays on four or five tracks and has contributed something really quite subtle. He has done some wonderful stuff - no bold strokes - just some very quiet, almost background electrics."

The release of Magician Among the Spirits will constitute what is essentially The Church's tenth studio album. And with a career which has stretched over one-and-a-half decades, seen him acclaimed as a producer and has now provided him with his own record label, Steve Kilbey is weary about predictions of the future.

"I look around and see the people who started off in 1980 when we did and there are not many of them left - particularly the ones who had any sort of international career."

"When you look back at The Church you can see different phases within our career. Phases which have appealed to different people. You can find people who are only interested in Heyday and that period, they trade reviews and interviews from around then and are specialists in that period."

"There are people who caught on with Starfish and there are other people for which Priest=Aura is their favourite album. These tend to be people who haven't listened to any of our early albums. Then, of course, there are the Blurred Crusade people and, for them, nothing we will ever do will come close to that record."

"Before I entered 'showbiz' I used to think that if I stood on stage under a spotlight and played to two thousand people who were cheering and screaming for me, that that would make me happy forever. But, in reality, it is a very fleeting thing - the sensation you get from it ends so quickly that it is hard to get any sort of lasting satisfaction out of it."

"It is the same with reviews and articles. You read all of these comments which say how great and wonderful you are but, at the end of the day, you go home and it is still just you alone with your thoughts."

"The majority of Church fans are not people who have liked us right across the board. Each of our albums has seemed to appeal to different people and, as a musician, that is one of the most satisfying things I could have ever hoped for."

Thanks to Mark Pytosky for sending this in!

 


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