In a little less than a year, what started out as a faltering studio exercise has seen the development and re-markable success of a curious assortment of young characters known as The Church . . . much as a result of their own tenacity and emphatic stance against compromise as any help from media record company or anyone else.
Except perhaps for the initial faith of ATV Northern Songs executive Chris Gilbey, who gave their band their break. For all their newly acquired (and, beyond the current chart success, stil fairly limited) status as EMI's "next big thing", the band is under no illusion, allowing no false pretensions nor wearing their success on their sleeves.
It's very much business as usual which means the music Ilrst and foremost, recording and performing to the best of their abilities and not compromising in the quality stakes. The quality has been there from the beginning, with their debut single: "She Never Said" (unnecessarily swamped in the pre-christmas rush) to the current "The Unguarded Moment" and brilliant debut LP Of Skins And Heart, The remarkable thing is that, in the mixture of dedication and laziness in all they do, (this band of four very different and strong personalities can present such a strong, united front.
It began early last year when lead guitarist Peter Koppes decided to have a crack at managing after a disillusioning stint with another Sydney band, Limazine, With them, he'd compromised his tastes for the small success Limazine did have: it probably galvanized his present attitude towards any kind of compromise with the Church.
"It's almost impossible to perform or create consistently if you're presenting something that really isn't honest. Sooner or later, you'll start having contradictory attitudes and the stress that must come with having to be something you're not must be incredible. With the Church, we are all as we are, each with personalities, a band of characters, and you take it or leave it.
"If we don't want to do something, we won't: and that goes for performance too. If we feel the quality will suffer and the kids won't get what they are due we'd rather refuse to play until things are fixed, than play in a situation that detracts from the show."
After a stint as sound engineer for Matt Finish, Peter reaffirmed his close friendship with Steve Kilbey, with whom he'd once played. Steve was going through an intense period of experimentation with sound ideas and songwriting which manifested itself in an incredible collection of original songs, recorded at his home on a four-track. Peter saw the potential and, deciding to get his friend some attention, he began his stint as "manager".
The reaction was predictable - "get a band". No-one seemed capable of understanding the potential of a studio band outside Flash & the Pan and the Monitors, so they roped in Limazine's drummer Nick Ward and went on the road, playing dives like the Metropole and Brownies. A young Scouse named Marty Willson-Piper fresh from the Old Country, convinced them of his worth and joined as rhythm guitarist, and was soon to prove invaluable in creating that characteristic "jingle-jangle" 12-string guitar that Church is noted for on record.
Getting together another set of demos, the band scored a publishing deal with ATV who subleased their material through Parlophone to EMI , so now they have complete control over their material, an enviable position for such a young band.
They do take advice however : they have a lot of respect for Gilbey, even lf their demands for honesty and hard work have seen them go through three managers already.
Even when they chose Bob Clearmountain, the American producer, to work on their LP after he showed intereste in their demos, it it was after they checked out what he'd done on Roxy Music's Flesh And Blood and Tom Verlaine that they agreed.
Koppes: "When we got it (the tape) back we were really pleasantly surprised, because he added another dimension to the song that had been there originally, which was good."
Willson-Piper : "It was because he was relevant, relevant to what we are doing, That showed in those albums especially what he did with "Over You" for Roxy Music."
Willson-Piper shows all the musical alertness and awareness of having grown up in an intensely-music conscious environment like England, quick-wltted, and with a healthy respect for the Oz-grown industry. Koppes is more deliberate and serious in his attitudes. Willson-Piper is the avid record collector. Koppes bas outgrown his adolescent obsession with music, and these days avidly searches his Sunday papers for human interests that give him an insight into the lives of people not within the music scene.
They say they're contributing most to the arrangements although Kilbey still writes the bulk of the lyrics. They think that there was a greater degree of experimentation in his original songs because he spent time in his studios but he couldn't once the Church went on the road. Still, his time with his tape recorder gave him a lot of ideas about sounds, and the Church obviously aren't a band afraid of trying new sounds and accepting mistakes.
"He's creating his own fantasies through those songs" they say about Steve's lyrics, "He's creating his own entertainment and I think that's the only objective he has in writing. He writes not to convey messages but to read back to himself. Playing gigs every night just singing 'baby I love you' gets pretty monotonous. He doesn't necessarily write to mean anything, rather an expression or string of words that sound good together, work well to gether or give a bit of a twist. Then he'll sing them and he'll sing them in different ways each night and it's just like painting visuals. Kilbey seems to provoke all kinds ol comments about his clever use of lyrics and provocative titles like 'Fighter Pilot - Korean War' though he spends just as much time denying that the songs mean anything.
"'Korean War - Fighter Pilot' is definitely about something, It came out of a conversation he had with someone. Naturally, you don't just come but with things 'bang! there it is, you write it down'. You can write something yourself and three months later learn what it meant exactly because it was a subconscious event anyway."
"Steve is very aware - he absorbs things all the time. It's like he's a sponge".
Marty: "But he does it with a sense of humour. He's got a very tight sense of humour hee deesn't just accept things, they go through his incredible sense of screening that puts things into a funny focus".
The arrival of new drummer Richard Ploog has added to the onstage communication and studio creativity, they say. It showed when they were in the studio to record their forthcoming 5-track EP.
"We went into the rehearsal studio before going in to record this last EP. and we had to keep stopping other ideas coming through and get on with the tracks in hand. In the end we wrote a song in there that added to what was originally a 4 track EP. The whole band just got caught up in this epic intro sort of thing."
"We wrote almost half of the repertoire in two days of rehearsal during blackouts and it was all just in there, and it's obvious that the band is going to write more like that in the future."
Because of the time lapse in the different states picking up "The Unguarded Moment" the EP has been delayed until August initially as a two-record set in its first 5000 print, and then split as a pair of singlets all in a $1.99 package. [Brian: This is the Too Fast For You double single...$1.99 ? I wish !!] They refuse to pull any more singles from the album.
Meantime, there are constant rumblings from overseas labels including a Canadian distribution deal. The day before, Peter and Marty had been hauled to local record shop Palings for a photo session to be used for US trade publications Billboard and Cashbox. Tbey see Europe as the natural market for them (all having some experience of England and Europe by birth and travel) and look forward to working there, though not necessarily moving there.
Australia, they feel, is a good place to live and work, but a musician has to realistically look for overseas potential and marketability.
Marty was most recently in England. When he came over in April 1980 he'd only heard of Sports, Angels and Cold Chisel and thought that was all there was. "When I got here and saw the Models, and Inxs, and bands like that, I thought, 'wow there are some good bands out here ! I think that the scene here is as good as the scene in England. It's a lot more sincere".
In England after a stint busking in Europe, he played in a Holly & the Italians-type power pop band that never made It In the highly competitlve London scene where one has to pay to play. Peter had a few 'in the past darkly' vinyl outings before tells, including a couple of his songs to be released in the states with a girl singer who proceeded to fall pregnant ("Not mine, either!" ) and consequently never appeared- A long time ago Peter and Steve, just out of school in their first band together, did some demos for Leeds Publishing but those fell on deaf ears.
With the Church, they've all made their recorded vinyl debuts. New boy Ploog makes his vinyl debut with the forthcoming EP, although at 18, he developed quite a name for himself in Adelaide, drumming with Loose Kicks, the Name Droppers and the Dagoes.
"He's had write-ups in the papers and everything - before we did even ! He's one of those guys that gets written up like "the band was blah blah but THE DRUMMER !!!", that's the sort of image he's developed. He's a great drummer, a little dynamo kid. He's more prepared to try going with a certain style because be's young and fresh instead of being a little cautious and pulling out. This EP is his first recorded vinyl and we were all surprised. some energetic drummers sound too busy in the studio but he pulled himself up very well. For 18, he's amazing, - this'll turn his head no end!
"We put an ad in the paper when Nick parted, and Richard was one of the guys who answered it. He came to the rehearsals three hours late when he was meant to be first he didn't have a snare, no sticks, no cymbals. He came in, sat through the last applicant's audition making ridiculous comments, then went on the drums and just blew us away. He did everything wrong, but he's just a character and his drumming just pulled him through."
One thing that irritates the band ls the over-cautious attitude in the Australian music scene. It permeates from the media to record companies to the record buying public, and is some sort of apathy towards buying new, untried, innovative or different - it's an attitude that promotes a safe Dr. Hook LP over a struggling young act, whether Australian or overseas.
As Marty paints out, 'if the Beatles came out right now, the music press would slam them because they look stupid, and they wouldn't get a bloody chance. That's the stage things have reached - you can't get away with just being what you are. People are scared to make a mistake, to appear uncool. You have to be careful who you say you like, which is ridiculous.'
Moving Pictures did that by word of mouth - everyone say 'Moving Pictures are great' and they'd go to the gigs and say 'yeah, they are great' so it would become an event every time they did a gig. It's going to be interesting to hear them on vinyl, 'cos that's when people will be able to listen objectively without the pressure of the event, when they'll suddenly realise that the basis of it all is the music. Vinyl's a real breaker for a lot if bands."
The Church are justifiably proud of their vinyl, but feel they don't have to reproduce it onstage. They are kept as two separate entities. Peter says the next album could have a whole side of songs not for live performing at all. Yet even with their ever-growing strong attitudes and personalities, things don't always roll smoothly.
Peter: You still feel you're banging into brick walls occasionally, though. Like, we were playing the Seals Club here in Sydney the other night and Steve walked backstage and muttered "now there's three hundred good reasons for clubbing seals ! "
Return to Interviews page